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Police dog use for drug searches in Florida

Police dogs can be used to conduct sniff searches in certain situations. SCOTUS sheds light on when and where these tests are appropriate.

Florida recently took two cases involving the use of police dogs conducting sniff searches to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). One questioned whether or not a dog sniff test is enough to provide probable cause for a search while the other questioned whether these same tests are a search when conducted on a home’s front porch. Each provides a glimpse into the evolving nature of criminal law.

Florida v. Harris: Can a drug-sniffing dog’s alert satisfy probable cause requirement for a search?

The first case, Florida v. Harris, questioned whether or not evidence of a police dog’s satisfactory performance in a training or certification program was sufficient to provide probable cause for a search of a vehicle when the dog alerted to the presence of drugs within the vehicle. The facts of the case begin in 2006, when the defendant, Clayton Harris, was pulled over for having an expired license plate on his truck. During the stop, the officer noted that the driver appeared "nervous and disoriented." The officer requested permission to search the truck and the driver refused. The officer then took his drug-sniffing dog around the vehicle and the dog alerted to the presence of an illegal substance at the driver’s door handle. The officer used this alert as probable cause to conduct a search over the objections of the driver. The search resulted in the finding of materials used to make methamphetamine. Harris was then arrested and charged with various drug crimes.

Harris argued that the alert made by the drug-sniffing dog was not reliable enough to satisfy the probable cause requirement needed to overcome his objections and justify the search. The Florida Supreme Court found in favor of the defendant and put together a checklist of pieces of proof that police would need to provide to show that a dog’s alert was reliable enough to satisfy the probable cause requirement. Ultimately, SCOTUS disagreed with this holding. Instead, SCOTUS found that an alert was sufficient to satisfy the probable cause requirement for a search of a vehicle. Justice Kagan, who wrote for the majority, stated that both police and the accused should be provided the opportunity to "make their best case" on whether or not the dog was reliable. In this case, SCOTUS found the dog’s training record was enough to establish that the dog’s alert was reliable.

Florida v. Jardines: Does a sniff at the front of the house constitute a search?

After the holding in the above-mentioned case, it appeared SCOTUS had gone to the dogs. However, SCOTUS did not side with the dogs in the second case, Florida v. Jardines.

This case questioned whether or not a drug dog conducting a sniff test at the front of a house was considered a search. According to Justice Scalia, who wrote for the majority, having a police dog on the front porch of a home is considered a trespass at common law. This was used to support the contention that the same action constitutes a search and thus constitutional protections applied.

Florida state law and penalties for drug crimes

Having an understanding of the changing nature of criminal law is important, especially for those who are charged with drug crimes. Drug crimes are taken seriously in Florida. A conviction for drug possession charges can come with hefty monetary fines and potential imprisonment. As a result, those facing these charges are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced Florida drug charges lawyer. The Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A., will advocate for your rights, working to better ensure a more favorable outcome.

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