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Supreme Court to Hear “Dog Sniff” Cases

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The Supreme Court of the United States is now in session. Two cases are to be heard on Wednesday, October 31. They are both from Florida and both involve the use of police dogs in the gathering of evidence in regards to illegal narcotics. The court will decide if such use violates the Fourth Amendment. That amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Currently, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office maintains a Canine Unit consisting of five handler officers and seven dogs. Some of the dogs are patrol dogs, some are bomb detection dogs, and some are narcotics detection dogs. Canines trained for the narcotics division are used to detect the scent of marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine. According to the Sherriff’s Office, the dogs can locate drugs in houses, cars, and even buried underground.

In the case of Florida v Jardines, (Oral Argument Transcripts) the defendant maintains that a warrantless “sniff test” by a dog at his home with live plants inside violated his right against unreasonable searches. Was a trained narcotics canine sniffing at a front door to a private residence a search under the Fourth Amendment and therefore a violation of privacy? The defense argues that the “sniff test” should have been conducted after there was evidence of a crime.

In the case of Florida v Harris, (Oral Argument Transcripts) a valid traffic stop for driving with an expired registration tag resulted in a warrantless search of the defendant’s truck. The police officer had his dog, Aldo, sniff the outside of the truck. Aldo “alerted” at the door handle and the officer searched the vehicle’s interior. The officer admitted at the trial that the dog can pick up lingering “residual odors”. Does an “alert” from an odor that could have been lingering for an unknown amount of time result in probable cause for a subsequent search?

Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell and, therefore, are often used in police investigations. Evidence from dog searches is often permitted in criminal court cases. While this may be an important part of police work, police must establish a dog’s reliability and follow proper channels to ensure that people do not have their constitutional rights infringed upon. A great resource to assist with determining whether a dog sniff was conducted properly is Andy Falco, the President of Falco Enterprises, Inc. and the Director of Falco K9 Academy. As criminal defense attorneys, if a canine search was used in your case, it is important to ensure that the methods employed by dog handler are sound. This could be the difference in whether the evidence against your client was discovered in accordance with the law or whether the Constitutional rights were violated.

If you or someone you know has been arrested, ontact the Law Office of Dayna L. Jones at (210) 255-8525 to schedule an appointment with the attorney. Calls are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.