The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases involving the use of dogs to sniff out narcotics. In the cases, the Court is determining whether dogs can be used to ferret out drugs inside a private residence and what credentials are necessary to prove that a drug dog is properly trained.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases involving the use of dogs to sniff out narcotics. In the cases, both of which originate in Florida, the Court is determining whether dogs can be used to ferret out drugs inside a private residence and what credentials are necessary to prove that a drug dog is properly trained.
In Florida v. Jardines , the Florida Supreme Court ruled that authorities violated the Fourth Amendment when it used a drug dog to sniff the exterior of a person’s home. In the case, police got a tip that marijuana was being grown inside Joelis Jardines’ home. Based on this tip alone, and without a warrant, police used a drug dog to sniff at Jardines’ front door . The dog alerted, indicating the presence of marijuana. Police entered the residence and found marijuana plants. Attorneys for Jardines argued that the search violated the Fourth Amendment and that a warrant is necessary to enter a private residence, even if a dog detects the presence of narcotics.
The court ruled: “Further, if government agents can conduct a dog ‘sniff test’ at a private residence without any prior evidentiary showing of wrongdoing, there is nothing to prevent the agents from applying the procedure in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner, or based on whim and fancy, at the home of any citizen. Such an open-ended policy invites over-bearing and harassing conduct. Accordingly, we conclude that a ‘sniff test,’ such as the test that was conducted in the present case, is a substantial government intrusion into the sanctity of the home and constitutes a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. As such, it must be preceded by an evidentiary showing of wrongdoing.” The police appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Florida v. Harris , the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the constitutionality of using drug sniffing dogs to search a private vehicle depends on the dog’s reliability as a detector. The state appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the case, a police officer conducted a traffic stop after determining that Clayton Harris was driving with expired tags. During the stop, Harris appeared twitchy and anxious. The officer suspected that Harris might be under the influence of methamphetamines. The officer asked to search Harris’ truck. Harris refused.
The officer deployed Aldo, a drug sniffing dog. Aldo alerted on the driver’s side door of the truck. When officers searched the truck, they found 200 pseudoephedrine pills, eight boxes of matches, and muriatic acid—all precursor ingredients for creating methamphetamine. Harris was arrested. At trial, Harris argued that the search of his truck was illegal because the alert of the dog did not constitute a basis for the search. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court agreed. The court found that the state had not established the dog’s credentials and that the dog’s reliability may be based on a variety of factors.
For example, the court noted that Aldo was trained to detect cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and methamphetamine but was not trained to detect alcohol or pseudoephedrine. Similarly, the field training, false alert rate , and handler training could also be considered when determining whether Aldo was reliable.
The court ruled: “In summary, where adequate and comprehensive records are maintained on a particular narcotics dog, and include results of controlled alerts made in training , as well as actual alerts in the field, the clog's reliability could be sufficiently established either through the records themselves or testimony from the dog's trainer who maintained the records. In this respect, the dog's alert is analogous to information provided by a reliable informant, and his alert without more could establish probable cause.”
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear separate arguments in the cases on Wednesday, October 31. The Court will issue its decisions before the end of the term in summer 2013.
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