Supreme Court to Hear Drug-Sniffing Dogs Case Today

By Laura Spadanuta

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments today on two Florida Supreme Court cases regarding drug sniffing dogs.

The Court will hear oral arguments on whether judges can issue search warrants for private homes a when drug-sniffing dog gives a detection alert when outside the home. Last year, the Florida court "overturned the conviction of a Miami man for growing marijuana in his house. An officer had taken a drug-sniffing dog to the man's front porch, and the alert furnished the probable cause to obtain a search warrant," reports the Los Angeles Times.

The other case the Court is hearing regards the Florida court'sdecision that questions whether, with regard to the fourth amendment's ban on unreasonable search and seizure, a dog's sniff alert is enough to provide probable cause for a search without further proof of the dog's abilities. However, prosecutors say that evidence of training should be enough.

Per the Times:

Last year, the Florida Supreme Court said it was not convinced drug-sniffing dogs were always reliable enough to justify searches of cars on the highway. "There is no uniform standard in this state or nationwide for acceptable level of training, testing or certification for drug-detection dogs," the state justices said. And the "potential for false alerts and for handler error" means that innocent motorists may be subjected to embarrassing searches, they said.

To justify a search that is triggered by a drug-sniffing dog, the police must furnish a trial judge with the canine's "field performance records, including any unverified alerts," as well as evidence of its training and certification, the state justices said.

Additionally, the article states:

In the past, the high court has given the police a green light to conduct searches whenever a "well-trained narcotics detection dog" gives an alert. No one disputes that canines have an extraordinary ability to detect odors, and they can be invaluable in finding items such as hidden explosives or human remains.

But some experts in animal science are urging the justices to be cautious before allowing police dogs to serve as a substitute for search warrants.

The Times article cites a study on the accuracy of drug sniffing dogs. One study, conducted at University of California, Davis, found that dogs would alert to drugs more often when their handlers thought drugs were present. There were no drugs present in the rooms but the handlers had been under the impression that certain spots contained drugs. This suggests that a handler's belief that there are drugs present might influence the dog's behavior.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that decisions in the cases are expected next June.

photo by cwwycoff1/flickr


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