Supreme Court To Hear Drug-Sniffing Cases Next Week

October 26, 2012

The Supreme Court of the United States will hear two drug cases next week specifically related to drug-sniffing dogs. While this is not the first time the Supreme Court will hear a case relating to canine related searches, the justices will decide whether two drug trafficking arrests were legal based on canine searches. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the searches and subsequent arrests and seizures were unconstitutional. One of the cases being heard comes out of Miami, Florida, while the other case comes out of the panhandle of Florida. The Miami criminal attorney representing the defendant in the first case filed a motion to suppress the dog sniff. The Florida Supreme Court found that the alert was insufficient to establish probable cause to get a warrant. The case arose back in December 5, 2006, when Franky, a chocolate Labrador retriever, was brought to a Miami-Dade residence based on an anonymous tip. Franky sniffed at the front door and alerted to the residence. The police obtained a search warrant based on the alert. Upon executing the warrant, police found a fully functional marijuana grow house and the defendant, Joelis Jardines, was charged with trafficking in marijuana.

The second case arose out of Bristol, Florida. A police officer pulled over a pick-up truck with an expired tag. The defendant, Clayton Harris, acted nervous when approached by the officer. The officer brought his canine, Aldo, a German Shepard, to the vehicle. Aldo alerted next to the driver's front door. Based on the alert, the deputy searched the vehicle and discovered 200 pseudoephedrine pills which is used to manufacture methamphetamines. The criminal lawyer representing Harris also filed a motion to suppress and the search was later ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court. In the Jardine's case, the Florida Supreme Court found that, "given the special status accorded a citizen's home under the Fourth Amendment, we conclude that a 'sniff test' is a substantial intrusion into the sanctity of the home and constitutes a search and the search must be preceded by an evidentiary showing of wrongdoing."

The Florida Supreme Court held in the Harris case that, "the prosecution could not prove Aldo's reliability in tracking pseudoephedrine", and set forth rigorous standards to determine if a drug sniffing dog's credentials were sufficient to establish probable cause in drug cases. The United States Supreme court has previously ruled on a couple of unrelated dog sniffing cases, however, the facts are not similar to the cases being heard next week. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in one case that a dog sniff was permissible because the defendant did not have a legitimate privacy claim. The high court has also ruled that a dog sniff is permissible during a traffic stop because traffic stop does not trigger a search under the Fourth Amendment.

The best chance for criminal attorneys and their clients is a Supreme Court case which held that the police use of a thermal imager outside of a home was a search under the fourth amendment and ruled to be unconstitutional. Most predict, however, that the Supreme Court will fall on the side of law enforcement and liken a dog sniff to that of an officer who is able to smell the strong odor of marijuana emanating from an automobile or a residence.

Drug-Sniffing Cases Send Supreme Court to the Dogs, Kansas City Star.com, October 26, 2012.