Supreme Court: “The sniff is up to snuff”
The canine nose got a vote of confidence Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court.
The unanimous decision stemmed from a case in Florida in which defense attorneys questioned a drug-sniffing dog’s credentials and reliability, and whether his alert was just cause to search a truck police had stopped.
The court ruled that, in the case of trained and certified dogs, it is — or as Justice Elena Kagan put it: “The sniff is up to snuff.”
Kagan said a dog’s “satisfactory performance” in a certification or training program provided sufficient reason for an officer to trust its alert, even though errors “may abound” when dogs get put to the test in the field.
The justices said that training records had established the reliability of Aldo, a German shepherd, in sniffing out contraband, and that Florida’s Supreme Court erred in suppressing evidence he found in Clayton Harris’ pickup truck — namely, methamphetamine ingredients.
The ruling, Reuters reports, gives law enforcement greater authority to use dogs to uncover illegal drugs.
“The question – similar to every inquiry into probable cause – is whether all the facts surrounding a dog’s alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime,” Kagan wrote for the court. “A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test.”
The Harris case is one of two the court is considering about the validity of evidence obtained by drug-sniffing dogs. The second — which the high court has heard, but not decided — involves a police dog named Franky, who alerted while standing on a home’s doorstep, prompting a search that led to the discovery of marijuana growing inside.
In the case decided Tuesday, defense lawyers for Harris challenged the search by Aldo, a police dog in Liberty County, Florida. The officer handling Aldo — because Harris appeared nervous and declined to approve a search of his vehicle — allowed the dog a “free air sniff.”
Based in part on Aldo’s reaction, a full search was conducted.
Harris’ lawyers challenged the search, questioning Aldo’s certification and whether he was reliable in sniffing out drugs.
Florida’s Supreme Court concluded that the state had not sufficiently established how well-trained Aldo was, and it ruled the evidence of the methamphetamine ingredients should not have been admitted.
Kagan wrote that the officer reasonably believed there was contraband inside the truck based on Aldo’s training, and that defense attorneys failed to show that Aldo was unreliable.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 20th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aldo, animals, certification, detecting, dogs, drug, florida, harris, ingredients, justice elena kagan, K-9, k9, law enforcement, liberty county, methamphetamine, nose, pets, police, reliability, ruling, scent, search, sniffing, supreme court, training, vehicle