(This article is part 2 in a drug-dog series.  To read part 1, click: Search and Seizure Laws: Officer, Your Dog Is Sniffing My Trunk)

Dog Sniff Search Based on Open Beer in Car

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, drug dogs’ sniffers don’t need to be perfect

The United States Supreme Court heard arguments and read briefs on two “dog sniff” cases this past session. The court upheld the dog sniff search in one of those cases, Florida v. Harris 11-817. Mr. Harris was pulled over for a traffic violation. The officer saw that he had an open beer in the drivers compartment. Without any further sign, the officer brought his dog, Aldo, over to Harris’ vehicle for a sniff or two. The dog alerted on the driver’s door. The Officer searched and found ephedrine, a methamphetamine precursor. He removed Harris from the vehicle.

Driver Challenged Search

The officer searched more comprehensively and found other chemicals necessary to make the drug. Harris was arrested, charged, and he later challenged the search of his vehicle as being based on less than probable cause.

U.S. Supreme Court’s Sniff-Is-Up-to-Snuff Test

Lower courts demanded more, saying that they wanted very thorough proof of the dog’s training and accuracy, saying that such search dogs were less than reliable otherwise. The United States Supreme Court reversed the lower courts, and it reinstated Harris’ conviction. The United States Supreme Court said that all the state has to do is to prove to the courts that the dog was reliable, but not perfect in its searching talent. Finding that a dog can be used to undertake a constitutional search,  the Supreme Court ruled that “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.”

Summary: Search Dogs Don’t Need to Be Perfect

In short, dogs can be used to search even if they are not letter perfect in their accuracy. Certainly, this lowers the demands on the pups who sniff for a living. It should also be noted that the comment about a “sniffs up to snuff” is about as entertaining as the Supremes get, so bookmark that page.

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Contact Shaun Kaufman Law

Colorado criminal defense attorney Shaun Kaufman has concentrated on search and seizures issues for nearly three decades.  He is also a dedicated dog-fancier and student of canine behavior.  Shaun can be reached at 303-309-0430 at any time of the day or night, 7 days a week.  Or fill out the contact form on the right side of this page.