Using dogs trained to sniff out drugs is not a new practice for Florida or federal law enforcement agencies. However, there have been widespread concerns over the use and efficacy of these dogs over the years, particularly when it comes to their success rate.
This controversy over the reliability of drug-sniffing dogs has not led to a reduced reliance on them. In fact, as we examined in this article, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that actually expanded the power of police to use these dogs. As troubling as this may seem, it may be more so when you realize that even when the dogs are wrong about drugs, a person can still wind up losing.
Earlier this year, a man was stopped by police and, as police do in many other situations, they brought out a drug-sniffing dog to do free air search around the man's vehicle. The dog evidently alerted, meaning it signaled to the police that it smelled drugs.
However, upon a search of the man's vehicle, the police found absolutely no traces of drugs. What they did find, however, was about $33,000 in cash.
Despite the man's explanation that the money was proceeds from various concerts put on by a band, the police took all the money. They were able to do this thanks to civil asset forfeiture laws, which allow police to seize money and assets believed to be proceeds from illegal activity. Without any other evidence, the police took the money and left the man with a receipt stating the money was confiscated because it was considered drug proceeds.
Ultimately, the money was returned to the man, but this doesn't always happen. In fact, in many cases, people who lose items or cash in these seizures end up having to fight to get their property back; some never do get it back.
What we hope people take away from this post is an awareness of all that you can stand to lose when police use drug-sniffing dogs. Drug dogs are a common resource utilized by law enforcement, but they are hardly reliable. In cases involving drug-sniffing dogs, it can be critical to scrutinize the use of the dog and the dog's training and experience. A successful challenge could mean the dismissal of evidence and the return of improperly seized assets.