On October 31, 2012, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments related to drug detection dogs. One of these dog detection cases is Florida v. Harris, No. SC08-1871. The Supreme Court will decide whether the Florida Supreme Court decided in Harris “an important federal question in a way that conflicts with the established Fourth Amendment precedent of the Supreme Court by holding that an alert by a well-trained narcotics detection dog certified to detect illegal contraband is insufficient to establish probable cause for the search of a vehicle?”
In Harris, a drug detection dog named Aldo and his handler, Officer Wheetley, were on patrol in June 2006. Officer Wheetley conducted a traffic stop of defendant-response, Harris’s truck after confirming that Harris’s truck tag was expired. Upon approaching the truck, Officer Wheetley noticed that Harris was “shaking, breathing rapidly, and could not sit still.” Officer Wheetley also noticed an open beer can in the cup holder. Officer Wheetley asked for consent to search the truck and Harris refused. Officer Wheetley then deployed Aldo to conduct a “free air sniff” of the exterior of the truck. Aldo alerted to the door handle of the driver’s side. Underneath the driver’s seat, Officer Wheetley discovered over 200 pseudoephedrine (a precursor of methamphetamine) pills in a plastic bag wrapped in a shirt and discovered on the passenger’s side 8,000 matches. Officer Wheetley then arrested Harris and read him his Miranda rights. Harris then told Officer Wheetley that he had been cooking meth for about a year. Harris admitted to being addicted to meth and needing meth every few days.
The State charged Harris with possession of pseudoephedrine with intent to use it to manufacture methamphetamine. Harris moved to suppress the seized evidence, arguing that it was found pursuant to an illegal search of his truck. At the suppression hearing, Officer Wheetley testified to his experience as a handler and testified to Aldo’s training and certification to detect drugs.
The Florida Supreme Court concluded that the State failed to meet its burden of establishing probable cause and “the other factors considered in the totality of circumstances analysis—Harris’s expired tag, Harris’s shaking, breathing rapidly, and inability to sit still, and Harris’s open beer can—do not rise to the level of probable cause that there were illegal drugs inside the vehicle.” Thus, the court held that a drug-detection dogs’ alert, and the fact that the dog has been trained and certified is not enough to establish probable cause to search the interior of the vehicle and the person. Therefore, the court held the search of the vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
The government then filed for a petition for a writ of certiorari, which the U.S. Supreme Court granted on March 26, 2012. Oral argument is expected to take place on October 31, 2012.
To follow Florida v. Harris on the Supreme Court docket, visit: http://www.supremecourt.gov/Search.aspx?FileName=/docketfiles/11-817.htm.