This week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Florida Supreme Court decision concerning the legality of drug dog sniff cases. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a police officer’s use of a drug sniffing dog to search a vehicle during a traffic stop was legal, even though the drugs the police found after the searching the suspect’s vehicle were NOT the type of drug or controlled substance the K-9 dog was trained to detect. For example, you have a dog trained to sniff for cannabis, but when the police search the car, they only find methamphetamine. How did the dog alert for cannabis when no cannabis was found? How can this vehicle search be legal?
The court ruled that a trained drug-sniffing dogs is reliable and made it quite easy for police officers to search a car or truck for drugs once a canine drug-sniffing dog has “alerted” to an odor or smell on the vehicle. If the police offer evidence that a dog has been trained, or received a certificate from a training agency, that may be enough to give police permission to turn an “alert” into a search of a vehicle.
The court overturned Florida’s case law that required a “check list” of proof of a dog’s reliability before a court could treat a dog’s signaling of the presence of a drug odor as the equivalent of “probable cause” to search. Instead of this check list, which was designed to insure a motorist is not subject to baseless searches, the new standard is a “reasonably prudent person” test or “totality of circumstances” or a common-sense review of all of the facts about a dog’s alert, to see if such a prudent person would think that a search would turn up evidence of illegal drugs. This now gives a trial judge tremendous freedom to determine whether there was probable cause to search a vehicle based upon an alert by a drug sniffing dog.
The justices strongly suggested that evidence of the K-9’s training is enough, without inquiring into how the dog had performed in the field. Instead, the judges placed the burden on the person accused of having illegal drugs based on a dog’s alert to challenge the dependability of the dog’s training and to whether the police handler might have “cued” the dog to make an alert. This is why you will need an aggressive Polk County criminal defense attorney for your controlled substance case because the prosecutor will not just turn over these records to you. A drug lawyer will have to demand this training evidence, make public record requests, and know how to interpret these records.
The court also heard arguments on another dog-sniffing case and probable cause to search, but this involved a private home. In the other case, a dog was used to sniff for drugs on the doorstep of a private home. The court did not decide that case yet, but the justices were far more skeptical of the legality of that search of a home. A citizen’s
Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches of their home is held to a much higher or stringent standard than of a vehicle which can be moved quickly and a person’s expectation of privacy in a vehicle is much less.
Trained or certified drug-sniffing dogs have a high rate of false alerts and are inherently unreliable, but now permit a warrantless invasion of a person's privacy. This does not require the production of the performance and training records necessary for an accused or a court to independently assess the K-9’s drug detection abilities. Instead of requiring the police to prove a dog's reliability, the decision flips the burden to the accused to prove unreliability.
Retain an aggressive Polk County criminal lawyer that has experience and knows the law.
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Thomas C. Grajek - 863-688-4606
Handling all Polk County felony and misdemeanor drug charges including possession, delivery, sale, and trafficking.