Later this month, the United States Supreme Court will hear two cases that involve working dogs. Both cases concern drug-sniffing dogs.
The issue in Joelis Jardines versus Florida concerns whether police violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights, which protect him from illegal search and seizure, by having a dog sniff his door without a warrant. In other words, does the sniffing by a trained dog constitute a search? If that’s the case, the police must have probable cause prior to directing a dog to sniff even the outside of a residence. Jardines was convicted of marijuana trafficking based on evidence found in the search of his house, which was conducted with a warrant that was obtained because of the dog’s alert.
In Florida versus Harris, the court will decide whether a dog alerting to narcotics constitutes the necessary probable cause required to allow police officers to conduct a search without a warrant. The defense has claimed that the fact that a dog has been trained to detect drugs does not provide sufficient proof that the dog is any good at doing so. They claim that the prosecution bears the burden of proof that the dog’s skills in this regard are reliable. In this case, Harris was charged with possession of materials with the intent to make methamphetamine. The materials used to manufacture this drug were found in Harris’ car after a police dog alerted to drugs on his car door during a traffic stop.
The decisions in both of these cases could have considerable impact on the use of dogs in law enforcement.