The United States Supreme Court overruled the Florida Supreme Court regarding police dogs by throwing out the Florida Supreme Court’s standards imposed on drug-sniffing canines before they could be trusted to justify a vehicle search.
The cases comes from Liberty County, Florida, where a drug dog conducted a ”free air sniff” outside the defendant’s truck during a June 2006 traffic stop, after the defendant had appeared nervous and refused to consent to a search inside.
The defense attorney challenged the search by filing a motion to suppress, questioning whether Aldo’s certification and performance showed that he was reliable in sniffing out drugs.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled the search unconstitutional, finding that prosecutors had not demonstrated Aldo’s reliability sufficiently to provide probable cause. Instead, that court said, the state must introduce “the dog’s training and certification records,” “field performance records,” information on the handler’s training and “any other objective evidence known to the officer about the dog’s reliability.”
In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said the Florida court’s checklist was too high a hurdle. Instead, dog-sniff evidence should be treated like any other reason police might offer to justify a search, the court said, allowing the defendant to challenge the canine’s reliability in light of the “totality of the circumstances.”
“The question…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 Kagen wrote for the court. “A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test.”
This means, going forward, police officers may be able to use drug-sniffing dogs without having to go into “great specificity” about how the dogs were trained.