The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an alert by Aldo the drug-sniffing German shepherd gave a Florida police officer probable cause to search a truck with an expired license plate.

In a unanimous opinion (PDF), the U.S. Supreme Court said the state does not need to establish the dog's field history to establish probable cause. Absent evidence to the contrary, the state can show a dog's reliability with evidence that the canine has been certified by a bona fide organization or has completed a training program evaluating proficiency, the court said.

"The question—similar to every inquiry into 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," Kagan wrote. "A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test. And here, Aldo’s did."

The court ruled in the case of defendant Clayton Harris, who was seeking to suppress evidence found in his truck consisting of 200 pseudoephedrine pills and other ingredients used to make methamphetamine. An officer conducted the search after an alert by Aldo. The dog had successfully completed a 120-hour course in narcotics detection and another 40-hour refresher course; his officer-handler had also completed training.

The Supreme Court reversed a Florida Supreme Court decision that had required the state to document the dog's "hits" and "misses" in the field to establish probable cause.

Courts look to the totality of the circumstances when evaluating probable cause, Kagan wrote. "We have rejected rigid rules, bright-line tests, and mechanistic inquiries in favor of a more flexible, all-things-considered approach," she wrote. The Florida Supreme Court’s "strict evidentiary checklist" is "the antithesis of a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis," Kagan said.

Adam Lee Nemann
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Trial and Defense Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Law at Capital University, founder of Nemann Law Offices
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