Supreme Court says dogs can be used to establish probable cause

By   /   February 19, 2013  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm |

HARRISBURG – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that drug-sniffing dogs can be used to establish probable cause for searches and arrests.

SNIFF SNIFF SNIFF: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld current practices for drug-sniffing police dogs at traffic stops.

The case before the high court questioned whether the arrest of Clayton Harris, a Florida man, was legitimate because the police dog, Aldo, that alerted officers to the scent of dogs in Harris’ vehicle was not trained to detect the type of drugs that were eventually found. The arrest had been thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court in Florida v. Harris, but that ruling was overturned unanimously.

At issue was whether a drug-sniffing dog – which may have questionable training or could be giving a “false positive” to police officers – can be used to establish probable cause for searches and arrests or whether such activities violate the Fourth Amendment.

From USA Today, the details of the case:

“(Supreme Court Justice Elana) Kagan noted that the police officer first encountered a nervous driver, Clayton Harris, and an open beer can. Then Aldo ‘alerted’ at the door handle of the car, giving probable cause for a search. But the search didn’t turn up drugs that could be sniffed; instead, ingredients for manufacturing methamphetamine were found, and Harris was arrested.”

The Washington Post notes that the case was one of two regarding drug-sniffing dogs taken up by Supreme Court late last year.  The other concerns whether police may bring a dog into someone’s home in order to obtain “probable cause” for a further search.

During oral arguments in October, several justices indicated they saw a difference in the standard for using a dog in a public setting like a traffic stop and entering someone’s private residence.

And at, Jacob Sullum details some of the issues with giving drug-sniffing dogs such long leashes when it comes to issuing search warrants.

Boehm is a reporter on civil liberties issues for


Eric is a reporter for and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.