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Drug Dog's 'Sniff Is Up to Snuff,' Supreme Court Rules

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By Andrew Lu on February 20, 2013 12:32 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a drug dog's "sniff is up to snuff," despite a Florida court's ruling that police failed to prove the dog's sniff was reliable.

The High Court found that police training records established the reliability of the dog, Aldo, in sniffing out illegal drugs. As a result, his handler had reason to believe that a vehicle was carrying illegal drugs based on the dog's reaction, reports Reuters.

The ruling has the potential to give law enforcement authorities much greater leeway in relying upon trained canine officers in finding contraband, without first establishing the dog's reliability.

The case dates back to 2006, when an officer and his drug-sniffing dog approached a pickup truck during a routine traffic stop. The officer noted that the driver appeared nervous; the driver did not allow the officer to search his truck, reports Reuters.

However, the officer allowed Aldo to perform a "free air sniff," after which the dog alerted the officer to the alleged presence of drugs in the truck.

At the state level, the Florida Supreme Court found that officers failed to prove the reliability of Aldo's sniff. The state court ruled that the certification and performance of the dog was not proven, and so the dog alerting his handler was not sufficient to give the officer reasonable belief that illegal drugs were actually inside the truck. As a result, the state court suppressed the evidence found by the dog, which turned out to be ingredients for making methamphetamine.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court arrived at a different conclusion about Aldo's drug-sniffing capabilities. Justices ruled that the officer could reasonably rely on Aldo's training to believe that there was contraband inside the truck once the dog started barking.

The Court ruled that a dog's "satisfactory performance" in a certification or training program was enough to provide an officer with sufficient reason to rely upon the canine. The Court found this to be true even though dogs may make mistakes in the field.

This means, going forward, police officers may be able to use drug-sniffing dogs without having to go into "great specificity" about how the dogs were trained, Reuters reports.

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