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Washington - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld a trained police dog's search of a truck for evidence, saying that training and testing records had established the dog's reliability and given the police probable cause.
The case was one of two the court has been considering this term about the validity of evidence obtained by drug-sniffing dogs and had been watched closely by criminal defense advocates.
At issue was the work of Aldo, a German shepherd whose “free air sniff” helped his police handler find methamphetamine ingredients inside Clayton Harris' pickup truck after it had been pulled over in Liberty County, Florida, in 2006.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the police officer reasonably believed there was contraband inside the truck after Aldo gave off an alert to its contents.
She said it was enough that a dog's “satisfactory performance” in a certification or training program provided sufficient reason for an officer to trust its alert.
“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.”
Tuesday's decision overturned a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that voided the search of Harris' truck.
A decision in the other “dog sniff” case, which focused on the location of a search on the doorstep of a home, has yet to be issued. - Reuters