Every dog has his day in court.
Or at least two Florida drug sniffing dogs, Franky and Aldo, will.
On Halloween, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two separate Florida cases involving the smells picked up by drug sniffing canines.
One case involves whether a warrant is needed before a police dog goes sniffing around the door of a possible drug house. The other deals with the reliability of drug dogs and how much their skill is relevant to the admissibility of evidence.
In the case involving search warrants, Joelis Jardines v. Florida, the nation's highest justices are being asked to decide whether Franky the drug sniffing dog was violating the constitutional rights of a Miami drug dealer when he sniffed at his door without a warrant.
The question is essentially whether police need probable cause to let the dog smell the door of a suspected drug house to be in compliance with the Fourth Amendment's protections against illegal search and seizure. The defense in the case argued the very act of the dog sniffing at the house required a warrant, because it was, in effect, a search. In the particular case, police only asked for a warrant after the drug dog alerted them that he smelled something.
The U.S. Supreme Court will get the case following differing rulings from lower courts. An Illinois court ruled that a dog sniff is not a search by itself, while the Florida Supreme Court relied on a different federal appeals court in ruling that it was the same thing as a search.
Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the issue she argues the use by drug dogs is so essential that law enforcement should be given broad latitude when deciding how they may be used.
In the other case, Florida v. Harris, the court is being asked, basically, whether a dog that's been trained to sniff out drugs might ever be wrong.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled in a methamphetamine case from the Panhandle, that evidence from Aldo the drug dog couldn't be assumed to be accurate just because Aldo had gone to sniffer school. Instead, prosecutors must show that the dog is actually a good sniffer dog.
"We hold the fact that a drug-detection dog has been trained and certified to detect narcotics, standing alone, is not sufficient to demonstrate the reliability of the dog," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in the Florida court's opinion, back in April of 2011. "Because a dog cannot be cross-examined like a police officer on the scene, whose observations often provide the basis for probable cause to search a vehicle, the state must introduce evidence concerning the dogs reliability," she wrote.
The Florida court spelled out some of what might help information about the dog's training and how well it did in school, and how experienced both the dog and the handler are.
Justice Charles Canady dissented in that case, saying the majority seemed to want drug dog evidence admitted "only when the dogs are shown to be virtually infallible."