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02-19-13, 09:56 PM #1
Supreme court rules that police don't have to prove dogs' sniffs are up to snuff after they pass certificationIn a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court gave law enforcement authorities greater authority to use dogs to uncover illegal drugs, upholding a police dog's search of a truck that uncovered methamphetamine ingredients inside.
The justices said that training records had established the reliability of Aldo, a German shepherd, in sniffing out contraband, and that Florida's Supreme Court erred in suppressing evidence he found in Clayton Harris' pickup truck."The question - similar to every inquiry into probable cause - 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," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court. "A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test."
A Liberty County, Florida, K-9 officer named William Wheetley had allowed Aldo a "free air sniff" outside Harris' truck during a June 2006 traffic stop, after the defendant had appeared nervous and refused to consent to a search inside.Harris' lawyers challenged the search, questioning whether Aldo's certification and performance showed that he was reliable in sniffing out drugs.But Florida's Supreme Court concluded that the state had not sufficiently established how well-trained Aldo was, or how reliable his nose was.It therefore ruled the evidence of the methamphetamine ingredients should not have been admitted against Harris, who pleaded no contest but was given a right to appeal.Kagan, however, wrote that Wheetley reasonably believed there was contraband inside the truck based on Aldo's training, and that Harris failed to show that Aldo was unreliable.She said it was enough that a dog's "satisfactory performance" in a certification or training program provided sufficient reason for an officer to trust its alert, even though errors "may abound" when dogs get put to the test in the field.
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