March 13, 2013
Supreme Court says OK to search after dog's sniff
-- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a drug-sniffing dog's alert constituted probable cause to search a vehicle. --
March 13, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a decision regarding one of the two drug-sniffing dog cases heard in oral arguments earlier this term. The judges' decision was unanimous, and Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion.
The case, Florida v. Harris, questioned whether a police officer had probable cause to search a car after a drug-sniffing dog alerted to the presence of drugs. The question hinged on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." The Amendment further states that probable cause is required to obtain a warrant to perform a search or seizure.
Florida v. Harris
The case before the Supreme Court arose when a law enforcement officer pulled over a motorist due to expired license plate tags. The police officer felt the driver's behavior signaled that he might be under the influence of drugs. The driver refused the officer's request to search the vehicle.
Consequently, the police officer walked his drug-sniffing dog around the vehicle. At the driver's side door, the dog alerted to drugs. The police officer used the dog's alert as sufficient justification to search the inside of the vehicle. During the search, the police officer found ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine. The dog had not been trained to detect the substances that were found.
The motorist was charged with a drug crime -- possession of materials used to manufacture methamphetamine. He argued that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the search was conducted, as it was based solely on the drug-sniffing dog's alert.
US Supreme Court's unanimous decision
The high court ruled that the dog's alert constituted probable cause in this case, allowing the police officer to search the vehicle. The court overturned the Florida Supreme Court's decision, which had found the search unconstitutional. The Florida Supreme Court had relied on the lack of information proving the reliability of the drug-sniffing dog used in this case. The court had ruled that additional documentation was needed to prove his reliability, including:
- Training and certification records
- Field performance records
- Information on the police officer's training
- Other objective evidence regarding the dog's reliability
The Supreme Court determined that the evidence required under the Florida high court's decision was not needed. Instead, the court held that it would look to the "totality of the circumstances" and reject "rigid rules, bright-line tests, and mechanistic inquiries."
Consequently, because the court found that the training records for the drug-sniffing dog in this case proved his reliability, it determined the search was constitutional.
If you are facing drug crime charges, seek the advice of a skilled criminal defense attorney to ensure a strong defense is established on your behalf.
Article provided by Miller & Pugh Law Offices, P.C.
Visit us at http://www.millerandpughlaw.com
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