Today, in a unanimous vote, the US Supreme Court established that police dogs pass the smell test. Literally.
In 2006, a drug-sniffing German shepherd named Aldo alerted his officer to the smell of drugs in Clayton Harris’ car. This is after Harris was pulled over in the Panhandle for an expired tag; was found by officer William Wheetley to be nervous and shaking; and refused Wheetley’s request to search his vehicle. And also, apparently, after Wheetley had been transporting the ingredients for making meth.
In successful appeals up through the Florida Supreme Court, Wheetley’s defense argued that dogs often make mistakes or are influenced by their handlers, and that prosecutors must provide evidence of the dog’s reliability in the field before the dog’s nose can establish probable cause for a search.
When Florida v. Harris reached the Supreme Court, Justice Elena Kagan disagreed, writing: “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… Aldo’s did.”
The Supreme Court’s opinion is that proper training and certification of police dogs is enough for law enforcement’s purposes, and that if defense attorneys have concerns about a specific dog’s qualifications, they could make such a case to a judge.
Guess every dog does have its day.
Via Karen Cyphers, PhD. — a public policy consultant, researcher, and mother to three girls. You may reach Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.