Good Doggie: Supreme Court Overturns Florida Supremes On Drug Sniffing Dogs

February 20, 2013

A Florida Supreme Court ruling that drug sniffing dogs need to have an “exhaustive set of records” to prove they’re reliable before their evidence can be used just doesn’t pass the smell test, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Instead, the nation’s high court said the Florida Supreme Court’s requirement for Liberty County drug canine Aldo “flouted” an established standard for taking a whole lot of things into consideration when determining whether an officer should be able to search a vehicle.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court said the nation’s high court has long used a “flexible, all-things-considered approach” on the question of probable cause, not rigid rules like how many times a drug dog has alerted on a scent in the past and been proven right.

“To assess the reliability of a drug-detection dog the (Florida Supreme Court) created a strict evidentiary checklist, whose every item the state must tick off,” Kagan wrote. The state Supreme Court would have police and prosecutors introduce comprehensive documentation of “hits and misses” in the field, she wrote, noting in an aside: “One wonders how the court would apply its test to a rookie dog.”

The case arose when Clayton Harris was pulled over in Blountstown for an expired tag and Aldo alerted on the door handle. Officer William Wheetley also observed Harris was nervous and shaking and had an open beer in the truck. But Wheetley said his principal reason for determining that he had probable cause to search the truck was Aldo’s alert.

He didn’t find methamphetamine, or any other drugs Aldo was trained to sniff out. But he did find all of the ingredients for making meth – and Harris later admitted that he cooked the drug at his house. The officer – and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed – said the dog likely alerted on the smell of methamphetamine from Harris himself, transferred to the door handle.

The Florida Supreme Court had ruled that without being able to show more clearly that the dog could have been right, the state couldn’t make its case, because the officer didn’t have cause to search the truck.

The U.S. Supreme Court opinion noted that Harris’ lawyers didn’t challenge any aspect of Aldo’s training at trial or in an evidentiary hearing, which would have been the way to get the search thrown out.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, saying it would make it easier for police to do their jobs.

“This victory is paramount to preserving our law enforcement officers’ ability to use police dog alerts to locate illegal drugs and arrest those who possess them,” Bondi said in a statement. “The Supreme Court correctly held that a police dog’s reliability is determined through a common-sense evaluation of the relevant circumstances, rather than through a rigid set of judge-created requirements.”

While telling Aldo “good boy,” the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t rule Tuesday on a separate drug sniffing case from Florida that was argued before the nation’s high court on the same day. In that case, Florida v. Jardines, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Miami-Dade drug dog Franky made an unreasonable search of a suspected grow house and threw out the conviction.

By The News Service of Florida


2 Responses to “Good Doggie: Supreme Court Overturns Florida Supremes On Drug Sniffing Dogs”

  1. Jane on February 20th, 2013 7:07 am

    Animals can be much more reliable than some people! A good dog is one of them!

  2. David Huie Green on February 20th, 2013 5:35 am

    Please note “a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court “.

    Some things they agree on completely. This was one of them.

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