The Supreme Court decided an issue on appeal Tuesday and ultimately sided with authorities and Aldo the sniff dog in concluding that vehicle searches for drugs and contraband do not require anything more than a “totality of the circumstances” approach when deciding cases.
The justices of the court concluded that a positive alert from the trained sniff dog could establish probable cause for a vehicle search. “The question– similar to every inquiry intro probable cause– is whether all the facts surrounding a dog’s alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime,” said Justice Elena Kagan. “And here, Aldo’s did.”
The aforementioned case involved defendant Clayton Harris, who was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy in Liberty County outside Tallahassee in 2006 for an expired license tag.
The officer brought Aldo to the scene, a German shepherd police dog who focused on the truck’s door handle. Subsequent to the dog’s indication of contraband, the interior search of the vehicle produced pills that are used to make methamphetamine.
Harris was charged and later pleaded no contest, but the state’s highest court later reversed the conviction establishes that the dog was unreliable. The court further concluded that the state’s general assertion a dog was sufficiently “trained” and “certified” was not enough alone to establish probable cause justifying vehicle searches.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, saying Aldo’s training records established that he was reliable in detecting drugs and that Harris “failed to undermine that showing.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi commented on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision stating, “This victory is paramount to preserving our law enforcement officers’ ability to use police dog alerts to locate illegal drugs and arrest those who possess them.” She further stated, “The Supreme Court correctly held that a police dog’s reliability is determined through a common-sense evaluation of the relevant circumstances, rather than through a rigid set of judge-created requirements,” Bondi said.