The Supreme Court overturned a Florida Supreme Court decision that required the state to demonstrate that dogs are reliable in the field. Justice Kagan wrote in her majority opinion that it would be sufficient for the state to show sufficient training and certification to make a dog’s alert reliable, unless there was a challenge to the sufficiency of that training. See Florida v. Harris, (U.S., Slip opinion No. 11-817, 2013). That is an extremely difficult showing for the defense, and essentially means that if the dog is certified, his alert will almost always allow a search (generally of a vehicle). It is worth noting
One of the concerns is that if a dog doesn’t show that reliability in the field – alerting to actual drugs – that the dog may be alerting too often and creating improper searches. For instance, a dog might be so sensitive that it not only can detect when drugs are in a car, but also if there have EVER been drugs in a car. Drive a used car at your own risk of being searched! The ability of dogs to use their sense of smell is nothing short of incredible. However, there remains the risk of abuse by unscrupulous handlers, or even by handlers that unconsciously signal to the dog. One of my first cases as a defense attorney involved a search stemming from a questionable dog alert. My client said the handler walked the dog around the car, then yanked up on his collar so that he yelped, then called that an alert, and searched the car. The cops found 1 suspected marijuana seed. One of the cops involved (not the handler, though) was later fired for lying in police reports. Sadly, I see such abuses all the time as a defense practitioner. Here’s to good K-9’s.
In other K-9 news, a police dog in England recently wrote his own police report in a case. “I chase him. I bite him. Good Boy.” The tongue in cheek report was prepared after a statement request from prosecutors who didn’t realize that PC Peache was a canine officer. I hope the cop who wrote it doesn’t get in too much trouble… because that’s funny. A local handler told me that one time his dog was actually subpoenaed to court. Where do you want him to point?