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U.S. Supreme Court Decides Dog-Sniffing Case

Searches by law enforcement officials are inherently intrusive, and the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution operates to protect citizens from unreasonable government action. Generally speaking, police need a warrant to conduct a search, but there are several exceptions to this rule. For example, if a police officer has probable cause to believe that there is contraband or evidence in a car stopped for a valid reason, they may perform a warrantless search of the car. If you have been subjected to a search of your car, you should contact a Fairfax criminal lawyer today for a free case review.

The United States Supreme Court issued a decision earlier this week making it easier for law enforcement to search your car without a warrant. The Court decided Florida v. Harris on Monday, in which it upheld a probable cause determination by an officer based upon an “alert” by a trained drug-sniffing dog.

What was at issue is whether the state would have to provide evidence above the dog's qualifications to justify the search. Clayton Harris was pulled over in 2006 in Florida for expired tags. Based upon Harris's demeanor, the officer who pulled him over walked his canine partner around the car. The dog alerted on the driver's side door handle, indicating the presence of a suspicious odor. The officer searched Harris's car based on the dog's alert, and found materials used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

At trial, Harris unsuccessfully moved to have the evidence excluded because the search was performed without probable cause. The trial court disagreed, and Harris pled guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison and 5 years of probation. The Florida Supreme Court overturned his conviction, holding that the state needed to provide evidence beyond the dog's credentials to establish that an alert provided probable cause.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, however, and held that if the state provides evidence of a dog's satisfactory performance in a certification or training program, an alert can provide probable cause to conduct a search. The legal test, according to the Justices, is the same as for any probable cause determination: “whether all the facts surrounding a dog's alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reason- ably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime.” Based on the facts before the Court in this case, they believed that the circumstances met that standard, and that the Florida High Court was incorrect to require additional evidence of the dog's prior accuracy.

Contact a Fairfax Criminal Lawyer Today for a Free Consultation

If you have been accused of a crime in Virginia, it is in your best interest to contact a Fairfax criminal attorney for a free case review. Attorney Wilfred Yeargan is dedicated to protecting the rights of Virginians accused of wrongdoing, and strives to get the best possible outcome for each client he represents. To schedule a consultation with Mr. Yeargan, contact us today at (703) 352-9044 or via email through our online contact form available on the right side of this page.

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