Supreme Court: Search Based on Dog's Sniff Smells "Up to Snuff"

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Possible K-9 Error

On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a search where a police dog from the Liberty County, Florida Sheriff's Office gave a positive "alert" for drugs during a traffic stop, but no drugs were ever found, was legal.

However, law enforcement officers did find chemicals commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The Florida Supreme Court had ruled that the search was unconstitutional, finding that the dog's reliability was not sufficient to provide the probable cause used to initiate a search of the subject vehicle.

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Challenging Reliability

In reversing the Florida court, the Supreme Court unanimously held that dog-sniff evidence should be considered the same as the other evidence a law enforcement officer has collected in determining probable cause. It is important to note that the Supreme Court's ruling continues to allow a criminal defendant to challenge a dog's reliability given the "totality of the circumstances".

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the Court:

"The question…is whether all the facts surrounding a dog's alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime,"

The Supreme Court is scheduled to rule upon a second Florida dog case this term. This second case involves the constitutionality of a search where an unverified tip led law enforcement officers to conduct a drug-sniff at the front door step of a private residence.

If you have questions about the legality of a search, contact Shepard Law for a consultation and case evaluation.

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