Police do not have a blank check to search a vehicle without a warrant, just because a drug-sniffing dog indicated the possible presence of drugs. In order for a warrantless search to be permissible based on a dog's signal, the U.S. Supreme Court held last week, there must be sufficient proof of the dog's reliability.
But what is sufficient proof of reliability? In its opinion in Florida v. Harris, the Supreme Court held that it isn't merely a matter of complying with a rigid checklist that establishes a dog's reliability, and thus establishes probable cause for a search. Rather, it is a question of whether the use of a sniffing dog in a particular case meets a "common sense" standard.
The Florida Supreme Court, which had heard the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, had found that a specific checklist of requirements was required to show the reliability of a drug-sniffing dog. The U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Kagan, said the proper standard for reliability involves looking at all the facts and circumstances of the case.
The question, then, is not whether the requirements of a training checklist were met. It is, rather, whether the evidence shows overall that the dog is able to do what it has been trained to do: namely, to sniff out drugs accurately.
The Supreme Court still has another drug-detection dog case on its docket. That case is called Florida v. Jardines. Instead of a dog sniffing around a motor vehicle, it involves a dog sniffing around the front porch and door of a home.
Source: "Trust the police dog," scotusblog, Lyle Denniston, 2-19-13
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