In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, the Supreme Court gave law enforcement more authority to use dogs to justify searches. The Supreme Court upheld the search of a truck that had methamphetamine ingredients inside. The justices stated that training records had established that Aldo, a German shepherd, was a reliable source for sniffing contraband. Florida’s Supreme Court had previously suppressed evidence obtained after Aldo had a “free air sniff” outside Clayton Harris’ pickup truck in 2006. Harris had refused consent to a search of his vehicle.
"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."
There are many who believe that police forces use drug-sniffing dogs to avoid constitutional protections against search and seizure. A study was done of police departments in Illinois from 2007 to 2009. The Chicago Tribune carried out the study and determined that 56 percent of all police searches triggered by a dog turned up nothing. Interestingly enough, when the search involved a Latino subject, 73 percent of searches triggered by a dog turned up no contraband. That means almost three-quarters of all dog alerts on Latinos were unjustified.
Barry Cooper, a former police officer who has worked with drug-sniffing dogs, stated that the use of canines is now out of control in America. “They’re using dogs as an excuse to search cars when people refuse consent. The reason it’s like this is because the dogs aren’t always really alerting: it’s actually the cops using those dogs to trample our rights as citizens,” Cooper told Raw Story.
Despite the almost complete lack of standards for drug-sniffing police dogs in the US, Justice Kagen still believes in police dogs, even though there may be errors when dogs are in the field. "Law enforcement units have their own strong incentive to use effective training and certification programs, because only accurate drug-detection dogs enable officers to locate contraband without incurring unnecessary risks or wasting limited time and resources," Kagan wrote.
The case in question is Florida v. Harris, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-817.
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