WASHINGTON -- Police don't have to extensively document the work of drug-sniffing dogs in the field to be able to use the results of their work in court, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
Instead, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for a unanimous court, courts should apply the same tests to dog sniffs they do when they look at other issues of whether police have probable cause to take an action.
"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 said. "A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test."
The court's ruling overturns a decision by the Florida Supreme Court in the case of Aldo, a drug-sniffing police dog used by the Liberty County sheriff.
Aldo was trained to detect methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy, and alerted his officer to the scent of drugs on a truck during a 2006 traffic stop.
Instead of those drugs, a search of Clayton Harris' truck resulted in 200 loose pseudoephedrine pills, 8,000 matches, a bottle of hydrochloric acid, two containers of antifreeze and a coffee filter full of iodine crystals -- all ingredients for making methamphetamine. Harris was arrested and charged with possessing pseudoephedrine for use in manufacturing methamphetamine.
Two months later, Harris was stopped again. Aldo again alerted his officer to the presence of drugs, but none were found.
Harris asked the courts to throw out evidence showing drugs were found in his truck, saying Aldo's alert didn't give police probable cause.
The Florida justices agreed, saying the police officer lacked probable cause to search, arguing that the officials' contention that a drug dog has been trained and certified to detect narcotics was not enough to establish the dog's reliability in court. Instead, the Florida court said, police needed to present training and certification records, field performance records, explanation of those records, and evidence concerning the dog handler's experience and training.