We start off our picks this week with a dog sniff case from the Supreme Court. A side note that several opinions came down from the High Court this week – to check them all out go to Justia’s Supreme Court Center , or sign up for our USSC Summary Newsletter.
Florida v. Harris, US Supreme Court (2/19/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
Officer Wheetley pulled Harris over for a routine traffic stop. Wheetley sought consent to search Harris’s truck, based on Harris’s nervousness and seeing an open beer can. When Harris refused, Wheetley executed a sniff test with his trained narcotics dog, Aldo, who alerted at the driver’s-side door, leading Wheetley to conclude that he had probable cause to search. The search turned up nothing Aldo was trained to detect, but did reveal ingredients for manufacturing methamphetamine. Harris was charged with illegal possession of those ingredients. In a subsequent stop while Harris was out on bail, Aldo again alerted on Harris’s truck but nothing of interest was found. The trial court denied a motion to suppress. The Florida Supreme Court reversed, holding that if an officer failed to keep records of field performance, including how many times a dog falsely alerted, he could never have probable cause to think the dog a reliable indicator of drugs. The Supreme Court reversed. Training and testing records supported Aldo’s reliability in detecting drugs and Harris failed to undermine that evidence, so Wheetley had probable cause to search. Whether an officer has probable cause depends on the totality of the circumstances, not rigid rules, bright-line tests, and mechanistic inquiries. Requiring the state to introduce comprehensive documentation of a dog’s prior hits and misses in the field is the antithesis of a totality-of-the-circumstances approach. Field records may sometimes be relevant, but the court should evaluate all the evidence, and should not prescribe an inflexible set of requirements.
Supreme Court Sides with Drug Sniffing Dog