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Court Permits Use Of Drug-Detecting Dog

Many police departments across Florida have devoted a significant amount of resources to investigating drug crimes. These wide-ranging and aggressive investigations can focus on suppliers, manufacturers and dealers, as officers hope to reduce the availability of drugs in the region.

Courts have long struggled with the balance between police and the rights of citizens suspected of drug crimes. Protections against illegal searches and seizures mean that if police act in a way that violates these rights, the evidence cannot be used at trial. A recent case before the United States Supreme Court about a Florida traffic stop addressed whether or not police had probable cause to search a vehicle after a drug-detecting dog indicated drugs were present.

After the officer pulled over the motorist, he noticed that the driver had an open can of beer in the vehicle and was also acting suspiciously. The officer asked the man for permission to search his vehicle, but the man refused. At that time, the officer led his trained police dog around the man’s vehicle, conducting a free-air search to see if the dog would alert to any drugs in the area.

The dog alerted to the driver’s door handle, a common place for drug residue to be found. The officer used this alert to search the man’s vehicle, and found chemicals often used in the manufacturing of meth. The man was arrested and faced several drug charges. While awaiting trial for these charges, the man was stopped by the officer a second time. The drug-detecting dog was again used to check for drugs, but none were found on the second stop.

The Florida Supreme Court had thrown out the evidence obtained during the first traffic stop, because it believed that it was necessary to establish the dog’s success rate. The officer did not record the dog’s rate of failure for detecting drugs, only the dog’s successes. Only instances where arrests were made were documented; situations where the dog gave a false alert were not recorded. The Florida court felt that this was not sufficient to support probable cause to search the vehicle.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Florida court’s ruling. It said that because there was sufficient evidence concerning the dog’s training, the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle. The ruling greatly expands the use of police power when conducting drug investigations. More individuals can expect to see police using drug-detecting dogs during traffic stops.

If you have been charged with a drug crime, you need to protect your rights. Speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney about the options available in your situation. Each case is different, and you may have specific questions about the potential penalties you may be facing.