First Supreme Court Sniff Test Goes to the Dogs: Florida v. Harris

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided one of two cases involving the reliability of man’s best friend to “sniff out” evidence of criminal activity. The Court ruled 9-0 in favor of the dog.

The Facts of the Case

K-9 Officer William Wheetley pulled over Clayton Harris for a routine traffic stop. Observing Harris's nervousness and an open beer can, Wheetley sought consent to search Harris's truck. When Harris refused, Wheetley executed a sniff test with his trained narcotics dog, Aldo.

The dog alerted at the driver's-side door handle, leading Wheetley to conclude that he had probable cause for a search. That search turned up nothing Aldo was trained to detect, but did reveal pseudoephedrine and other ingredients for manufacturing methamphetamine. Harris was arrested and charged with illegal possession of those ingredients. He subsequently sought to suppress the evidence based on Aldo's certification and performance in the field.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress. However, on appeal, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that Wheetley lacked probable cause to search Harris's vehicle under the Fourth Amendment. "[W]hen a dog alerts," the court wrote, "the fact that the dog has been trained and certified is simply not enough to establish probable cause."

The Supreme Court’s Decision...

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