The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday gave a pass to law enforcement agencies employing trained drug-sniffing dogs used in vehicle searches.
The ruling overturns a 2011 Florida Supreme Court decision that rejected evidence cultivated when a Liberty County man was arrested following a dog’s alert outside his vehicle.
The sniff alone, the State court found, didn’t provide sufficient probable cause to validate the search without supporting evidence that the dog and its handler had accurately executed similar searches throughout their law enforcement careers.
But the Supreme Court ruled that drug dogs’ noses don’t have to be infallible; they just have to be bona fide. An alert by a dog that has passed an approved certification program or has been recently trained is good enough to proceed with a legal search. There’s no need to document its accuracy or consistency in past searches.
Justice Elena Kagan, a 2010 Barack Obama nominee, blithely surmised the Court’s unanimous opinion:
In short, a probable-cause hearing focusing on a dog’s alert should proceed much like any other. The court should allow the parties to make their best case, consistent with the usual rules of criminal procedure. And the court should then evaluate the proffered evidence to decide what all the circumstances demonstrate…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. A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test.
And here, Aldo’s did.
Yes, Aldo is the dog from the Florida case; the one with the right “snuff.”
Retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a George H.W. Bush nominee, was much less admissive of police dogs’ reliability in 2005, when he wrote the dissenting opinion in a similar drug-search case. Souter wrote the “infallible dog” is “a creature of legal fiction” and referenced other cases in which the animals’ drug searches resulted in “alerting with less than perfect accuracy.”