Supreme Court Upholds Dog Search

The Supreme Court today issued its opinion in Florida v. Harris, ruling that extensive reliability evidence is not necessary for probable cause for a dog search. The opinion is here.

Justice Elena Kagan said the Florida court had gone too far, and suggested that proper training and certification of the dog — rather than how it has performed in the field — might be enough for law enforcement’s purposes.


Essentially, the court is saying that the state does not have to produce a dog’s field performance records, including instances of false alerts, to establish reliability and defeat a motion to suppress evidence from a dog search.

Another dog sniff case, Florida v. Jardines, is still pending.

[Jardines] concerns whether police may bring a dog to someone’s home, and then use the dog’s “alert” to the presence of drugs as probable cause for getting a search warrant.
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    Diogenes, you really (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Zorba on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 06:53:14 PM EST
    need to edit your quotes before you post them.  The format, such as it is, makes it very difficult to read.  Try hitting "Preview" before you post.  Just sayin'.

    I deleted it, it (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:05:46 PM EST
    came out too garbled.

    Thank you, J. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Zorba on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:14:05 PM EST
    It was indeed, too garbled.

    What "speaks for itself" (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by Peter G on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:19:41 PM EST
    is not the reliability of drug dogs, from the fact that drugs were found in the search at issue in Harris.  (That was Diogenes' now-deleted claim.) So what if drugs turn up in a particular search that the police seek to justify by a drug dog's "alert"? It is only the searches that uncover drugs that turn into criminal prosecutions, and possibly later into appeals with written decisions.  Without knowing the number of false positives (searches based on an "alert" that disclosed nothing, or nothing the dog was trained to detect), you know nothing at all about the reliability of the dog. (Let's not even get into the reliability of the handler's testimony about what constitutes an "alert" and whether the alert was consciously or unconsciously cued by the handler's behavior.) Among many other issues.  In any event, the constitutionality of a search cannot be established, much less its unconstitutionality justified, by the fact that contraband was actually uncovered. That's not "res ipsa loquitur," as Diogenes put it; to the contrary, it doesn't follow at all.

    Constitutionality of a search is (none / 0) (#7)
    by oculus on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:37:19 PM EST
    also not based on finding no drugs.

    Huh? (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Peter G on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:51:01 PM EST
    I don't see your point at all. A perfectly valid search can come up dry, as can an invalid one. So?

    You got my poorly worded (none / 0) (#11)
    by oculus on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 08:45:47 PM EST

    Yeah, he's a pretty cerebral guy too (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by NYShooter on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 09:42:03 PM EST
    He's out of the service now, and owns a few martial arts schools.....he's some kind of Grand Master karate instructor. I know he was a dog expert; where he is in that category today, I'll find out.

    Anyway, the way he explained  it to me was that the list of categories that can lead to false alerts is simply too extensive. Similar to polygraphs, where the best "interpreters" will tell you that the machines have critical limitations, so the reliability of the results rests more with the operator, then with the equipment. And, since it's their interpretation of what the squiggles mean, it becomes more an art than a science. So, you don't have to be genius to imagine all the ways it can go wrong.  It's not science. Same with dogs.

    First of all, the propensity for "sniffing" certain contraband is not inherited. There's no way to know which dog will be effective. Mutts are every bit as dependable (or, undependable) as pure breds. Secondly, certain dogs sniff only certain items, and the "strength" of the alerts fluctuate from day to day. Some days they'll alert positively 9 out of ten times, other days 6 out of ten. Thirdly, each dog has a different emotional attachment with their handler. When certain dogs don't alert on an actual contraband item, they sense the disappointment in the handler, and they start alerting on anything. Don't discount the fact that we're dealing with senses, and not cognitive abilities.  And we know so little of how that works. Basically, the dog doesn't specifically want to find the contraband, it wants to please its handler. So put the dog desire, together with senses, and one can imagine there's a lot of room for mischief. In other words, the handler is sending signals he/she doesn't know are being sent.

    Finally, and very important, the dogs do successful alerts in streaks. So, if a dog, let's say has a 90% success rate over a large number of trials, he/she may be successful 10 out of ten times, three times in a row, and then 6 out of ten, then 7, and so on. So, obviously, sniffing dogs are erratic, unreliable, and have a much greater propensity to go on alert than not. That means that if you have actual contraband in a building and test the dog ten times, they may score quite highly. Then if you give them ten tests, with no contraband, they will never "stand down" to the degree they alert to in the first test. They will always alert to a greater degree when there is actual contraband, then not alert when there is no contraband.

    I hope this made some sense. I shot through it, and no proof reading. I also did it from memory, so I know I left a lot out. For what I'm being paid, this is the best I could do tonight.

    Anybody who has trained a dog for tracking (none / 0) (#14)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 10:04:09 AM EST
    Competitions, if they are honest, will easily confess to how fallible dogs are, even the best dogs.  Dogs do not have the mental faculties that people do, but many dog lovers get very insulted if you bring that up.

    I watched an evil cheater at a dog show lead a female in heat past a ring just to disturb all the dogs and make their handlers unable to control them.  Worked like a charm, and all were highly trained dogs that from that point on couldn't concentrate on anything.

    Spaying and neutering dogs doesn't cure that either, just lessens the response somewhat.

    Dogs aren't great rational thinkers, it's all instinct and sniffing out drugs was not a survival skill.  Sniffing out bacon though is.


    make sure to liberally apply dog pheromones and bacon fat to my vehicle.

    All the cars ahead of you (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 02:25:43 PM EST
    If they shake down the five ahead of you they will be fed up with the dogs and life in general.  They will in fact probably be in the break room when you cross :)

    Either that, (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by Zorba on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 07:52:04 PM EST
    or, if sarc could find some way to smear the car in back of him with the bacon fat and/or dog pheromones, the dogs would be very, very interested in that car, and they would ignore his car.

    What??? (none / 0) (#17)
    by Zorba on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 01:36:59 PM EST
    You mean you want the dogs to alert on your vehicle, giving the cops "probable cause" to search it?   ;-)

    I chose a different profession!

    LOL! (none / 0) (#20)
    by Zorba on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 02:06:24 PM EST

    Pretty crazy when a dog is granted (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 11:23:44 AM EST
    Such sway over everyones life, liberty, and happiness.  The Supreme Court is only giving law enforcement a back door to violating everyone's rights if they have a dog with them.  K-9 units are a scam, a gimmick at best.  Certification of their dogs is for sale, it isn't earned or even demanded.  Some law enforcement agencies create their own certification. It's one hell of a scam.  Needs a nice documentary done on it.

    Yes (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Zorba on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 01:43:49 PM EST
    I would think that a lot of the dogs are picking up subtle cues from their handlers, because the handlers "have a feeling" that there is something suspicious.  The dogs, wanting to please their handlers, then show an "alert" signal.  Odors or no odors.  Then the dog gets rewarded, and so the behavior is reinforced.
    Sort of like Clever Hans.  If a horse can pick up on subtle, even involuntary, cues from a human, a dog certainly could.

    You think dog searches are suspect? (none / 0) (#1)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 04:38:26 PM EST
    How about moth searches?

    Certainly, I'm no expert, but (none / 0) (#9)
    by NYShooter on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 08:16:05 PM EST
    I have an Army, veteran K-9 handler as a neighbor, and I have read (and watched) literally dozens of articles and videos, all of who/which totally debunk the once accepted idea that certain dogs can be taught, or are born, with the ability to alert on certain contraband.

    And, a unanimous decision?

    If your neighbor, based on training, study (5.00 / 3) (#10)
    by Peter G on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 08:30:35 PM EST
    and experience, has concluded that drug-dog "alerts" are bunk, s/he could make some nice money as an expert witness for defense lawyers at court hearings.

    When was the last time... (none / 0) (#13)
    by unitron on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 03:26:30 AM EST
    ...a LEO really, really wanted to do a search but just could not get any of the dogs to do anything remotely considerable as an alert to allow them to do the search?