U.S. Supreme Court Gives Carte Blanche to Drug Sniffing Dogs

Search Results in Nothing After Drug Sniffing Dog Hits

In Florida v. Harris, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a drug sniffing dog’s alert or hit on a vehicle constitutes probably cause for purposes of searching a vehicle.  In that case the defendant was pulled over for an expired license plate.  The officer asked for consent to search the vehicle which was denied so the officer pulled his K-9 out and ran the dog around the vehicle.  The dog hit on the driver’s side door handle.  The cop then searched the vehicle and found no drug which the K-9 was trained to detect but the search revealed other contraband.

The defendant was arrested and then posted bail, but had another run-in with the exact same officer and K-9.  This time he was pulled over for having a broken brake light.  The K-9 again hit on the driver’s side door handle, but the subsequent search revealed nothing.

Court Proceedings

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence but the trial court found that there was sufficient probably cause.  An appellate court affirmed, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed and held that there was not probable cause and that the state has the burden of establishing evidence of the dog’s performance history, certifications, experience of the officer with the dog, etc.

The United States Supreme Court then reversed the Florida Supreme Court’s decision and held that “If the State has produced proof from controlled settings that a dog performs reliably in detecting drugs, and the defendant has not contested that showing, the court should find probable cause.”  Defendants have an opportunity to challenge the reliability of the evidence presented by the state and can call expert witnesses to refute the evidence.

Practicality of the Decision

When it comes down to it this decision literally gives carte blanche to drug sniffing dogs to establish probable cause because the state will be able to establish a pattern of reliability with every drug sniffing dog because if they didn’t have a reliable history they wouldn’t be a drug sniffing dog.  Drug sniffing dogs, however, hit on vehicles which have no drugs in them all the time, but since all the state has to do is show that they have a reliable history in a controlled environment the burden really shifts to the defendant to show that the dog is not reliable.  Records of how many times the dog hits on cars without any contraband in them, however, are not kept in a nice tidy binder and establishing such could be nearly impossible to do.

Our Utah criminal defense lawyers handle drug cases all the time that involve drug sniffing dogs.  Even with this new decision we are your best bet to beat the charges.  Call our law firm at 801.413.1753 for a free consultation.

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