Supreme Court decision expands use of drug sniffing dogs

 
 

The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that drug sniffing dogs can provide the probable cause needed to allow a police officer to conduct a search. The ruling was based on a contentious case involving a routine traffic stop and a drug sniffing dog in Florida.

In its decision, the court focused on reasonableness. In order to make a ruling, the court discussed whether a reasonable person would think a search justified by a drug sniffing dog's alert could result in the finding of drugs.

The answer according to the court: yes.

Details of the case

The case, Florida v. Harris , is based on a traffic stop due to an expired license plate. During the stop, the officer noticed the driver had an open container of beer and appeared nervous. He asked the driver for permission to search the car and the driver declined. The officer then used his narcotics trained dog to conduct a sniff test on the vehicle.

Aldo, a certified narcotics dog, alerted the officer to the presence of drugs at the driver's side door. This alert led the officer to conduct a search of the vehicle. During the search, ingredients used to make methamphetamine were found.

Generally, the fourth amendment offers protection against unreasonable searches. Florida's Supreme Court held that if the use of a narcotic dog could lead to a search, the dog should be reliable. In order to test the dog's reliability, the court developed a checklist assessing previous field records and the dog's training. Essentially, Florida's Supreme Court held that probable cause requires a "wide array of evidence" and that mere certification as a narcotics dog was not enough.

In this case, Florida's highest court held Aldo's background for detecting narcotics contained too many false positives to provide adequate probable cause for a search.

The Supreme Court of the United States disagreed. Instead, they held Florida's test was too rigid. Ultimately, narcotic trained dogs can provide probable cause of a search. Or, in the words of Justice Kagan: "a sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test."

How the case impacts Texas residents

The case focuses on the fundamental protection against unreasonable searches and seizures provided by the Fourth Amendment. Critics of this holding fear the Supreme Court's extension of the use of narcotics dogs to justify searches infringes on this basic right.

This case illustrates the changing nature of drug laws in the United States. If you are charged with a drug crime, it is important to contact a drug crimes lawyer experienced with search and seizure laws to better ensure your legal rights are protected.