Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Florida Supreme Court Makes It More Difficult To Uphold Searches Made with Drug Sniffing Dogs

St. Petersburg Criminal Attorney and Former State Prosecutor Melinda Morris of the Morris Law Firm discusses the Florida Supreme Court’s recent ruling that says standards are needed for drug sniffing dogs.


Since 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court has approved drug-sniffing dogs to check vehicles that officers suspect may have drugs inside during routine traffic stops.  The positive alert of a drug-sniffing dog gives the officer probable cause to search the vehicle.

A recent ruling by the Florida Supreme Court will impose tougher standards on the drug-sniffing dogs and make it more difficult for the prosecution to use evidence that was acquired using the dogs.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-1 in a decision to toss-out evidence that a drug-sniffing dog detected against a Florida Panhandle man.  In essence, the high Court said that the lack of statewide standards for drug-detecting dogs compels the State (prosecution) to to introduce evidence regarding the dog’s reliability beyond training certificates and records.

Why This Matters To You:

In the Tampa Bay area including St. Petersburg and Tampa it is common for law enforcement officers to utilize drug-sniffing dogs to provide probable cause to search a vehicle for drugs.  Typically, during a traffic stop, if the officer believes there may be drugs in the vehicle (and in some cases where there is no reason to believe there are drugs in the vehicle), a drug-sniffing dog may be called for to use their sense of smell to investigate.  If the dog alerts (often signaled by barking, sitting, or laying next to the area where the scent has been detected), it has traditionally given the officer probable cause to further investigate and search the vehicle for drugs.  Any evidence found (drugs, paraphernalia, etc.) has been upheld in Florida courts as the the State could prove the officer had probable cause and conducted a legal search.

With the Florida Supreme Court’s recent ruling, it makes it more difficult for the State to use evidence culled by using drug-sniffing dogs as much more backup and evidence of the dog’s training and reliability will be required.  Instead of simply showing training certificates and records, the State will now have the burden of proof to show that dog is reliable including field performance records, an explanation of the dog’s training, plus records showing the handler’s training and experience.

Another recent Florida Supreme Court ruling determined that law enforcement must get a valid warrant before using a drug-sniffing dog at the front door of a home.

In summary, drug-sniffing dogs will continue to be used in Florida, however, the State will have a much heavier burden of proof to utilize evidence found by the dogs in court.

What To Do Next:

If you have been arrested for a drug related crime contact a St. Petersburg Drug Charges Attorney to discuss possible defenses and specific strategies that may exist in your case.  Call the Morris Law Firm at 727-388-4736 to discuss your case directly with an attorney, or fill out our Online Form to be contacted for a Free Initial Consultation.  The Morris Law Firm can help and has specific knowledge and experience in defending drug charges offenders throughout Pinellas County and the entire Tampa Bay, FL Area (St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Hillsborough, Pasco, Bradenton, Manatee, and Sarasota).