In our December 12 post last year, we wrote about the use of drug-detection dogs and the expected ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases concerning constitutional constraints on those dogs. One of those cases, Florida v. Harris, has now been decided.
In a unanimous ruling yesterday, the Supreme Court eased the requirements that law enforcement must show as proof that a dog has been properly trained to detect drugs. The Court's decision will affect drug cases in St. Louis and across the country in which police seek to rely on evidence obtained by drug-sniffing dogs.
In the case before the Court, a police officer with a drug-sniffing dog noticed an expired license plate on a truck. He pulled the vehicle over and asked the driver whether he could search the truck. The driver refused.
But despite the driver's refusal to allow a search, the officer let the drug-detection dog sniff all around the vehicle. The dog did so and pointed toward the door handle on the driver's side of the truck, indicating a suspicious odor there.
The police officer had no search warrant. But based on the dog's signal (or, as the Supreme Court called it, "alert"), the officer proceeded to search the truck. He found various materials that could be used for making methamphetamine.
The driver's lawyers tried to block these materials from being used as evidence. After the judge refused, the driver pleaded no contest to the charges. He received a prison sentence of two years, plus five years of probation.
But the driver continued to challenge the grounds for the search. On appeal the Florida Supreme Court held that the prosecution had failed to show that the alert made by the dog was a reliable justification for a search, because it had not shown that the dog itself was reliable.
In our next post, we will discuss the Court's reasoning for overturning this decision.
Source: "Trust the police dog," Scotusblog, Lyle Denniston, 2-19-13
Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our St. Louis drug charges page.