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Supreme Court hears arguments on drug sniffing dogs

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Wednesday in two cases concerning whether the use of drug sniffing dogs violates the Fourth Amendment [text, Cornell LII] rights of defendants. The question in the first case, Florida v. Jardines [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], was whether police bringing a dog onto the front porch of a suspected grow house to sniff for drugs without a warrant and without probable cause constituted a violation of the suspect's rights. The Florida Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion] last year that this action was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. In oral arguments Wednesday, the US Supreme Court seemed to agree, as Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy were openly hostile to Florida's arguments that the dog sniff did not constitute a search and that being on the front porch was not the same as going into the suspect's home. Justice Elana Kagan also called the tactic used by the police "a lengthy and obtrusive process." JURIST Guest Columnist Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, argued that the Supreme Court, when deciding Florida v. Jardines, must adopt a new test [JURIST comment] to determine when an impermissible "search" has occurred.

The second case heard by the court Wednesday was Florida v. Harris [transcript, PDF; JURIST report]. In this case, the question was whether an alert by a well-trained narcotics dog constituted sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for the purpose of searching a vehicle without a warrant. The Florida Supreme Court ruled [opinion] last year that in order for an alert by a drug dog to be sufficient to establish probable cause, a police officer must present ample evidence of the reliability and training of the dog, the officer's experience with the dog and the meaning of the training the dog has received. It ruled that the dog's reaction is sufficient if, but only if, together with all of this evidence, a court determines a police officer could reasonably believe the dog's reaction established probable cause. Florida's lawyer argued that, while a defendant should be able to raise questions about the reliability of a particular dog, the courts should not impose a prohibition on reliance upon a dog's alert as probable cause unless the police officer can provide ample evidence of the dog's reliability. The justices appeared more accepting of Florida's argument in this case, and showed more skepticism toward the argument of Harris' lawyer that the police officer should be required to prove the dog is sufficiently reliable in order to rely on its reactions as probable cause. The court is expected to rule on both of these cases by next summer. JURIST Guest Columnists Anand Agneshwar and Anna Thompson of Arnold & Porter LLP have analyzed the possible implications of the Supreme Court's decision [JURIST comment] in Florida v. Harris.

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