Florida and federal law enforcement agencies routinely use dogs trained in sniffing out dangerous, unlawful materials like drugs. These dogs are relied on for their abilities to smell things humans cannot and they have proven to be successful in many cases. But they are not infallible and neither are the police officers who work with them.
In many cases, it is possible to challenge the use of a drug-sniffing dog or the accuracy of the dog in cases where it alerts to the presence of drugs. This can be a crucial tactic in seeking the reduction or dismissal of drug charges.
While the use of dogs is completely valid, it is not valid in all situations. Without probable cause or a search warrant, police may be prohibited from having the dog perform a sniff test of a person, car, home or other location. Further, according to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, police are prohibited from prolonging a traffic stop beyond what is reasonable in an effort to perform one of these tests.
Even if the search was legal, there may be reason to scrutinize the results of a sniff test. A dog can only perform as well as it is trained. If training was not properly done, or if the officer with the dog contributed to a false alert, then any evidence collected as a result may be thrown out. Further, as we examined in this article on our website, a dog's success rate will also play a significant role in determining its accuracy.
It is important to note that the laws apply differently depending on the situation. Questions will need to be asked including whether there was an expectation of privacy, whether a person consented to a search and whether police had probable cause to enlist the help of a drug-detecting canine.
These situations and how the laws apply can be extremely complex, so it is often wise to discuss specific matters involving drug-sniffing dogs and any drug charges that resulted with an experienced attorney.