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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Reliability Test for K-9s Gets High Court Review

(CN) - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to review a decision that established reliability standards for drug-sniffing dogs used in a search.

In April 2011, the Florida Supreme Court said that the state must show more than evidence of the dog's training and certification.

Training and certification, after all, is not standardized in Florida. Rather, the state supplement those records with "an explanation of the meaning of the particular training and certification of that dog, field performance records, and evidence concerning the experience and training of the officer handling the dog, as well as any other objective evidence known to the officer about the dog's reliability in being able to detect the presence of illegal substances within the vehicle."

Based on these requirements, Florida failed to establish the reliability of Aldo, a K-9 unit that sniffed out methamphetamine ingredients in a car belonging to Clayton Harris.

Liberty County Sheriff's Canine Officer William Wheetley and his

drug-detection dog, Aldo, made the discovery at a June 24, 2006, traffic stop.

Wheetley deployed Aldo after stopping Harris for expired tags and noticing an open beer can in the car cupholder. Harris, who was shaking, breathing rapidly and could not sit still, did not consent to the search.

After Aldo alerted Wheetley to the door handle of the driver's side, Wheetley discovered more than 200 pseudoephedrine pills in a plastic bag wrapped in a shirt. On the passenger's side, Wheetley discovered eight boxes of matches and a toolbox with muriatic acid.

Harris pleaded no contest to possession with intent manufacture meth and was sentenced to two years in prison. The First District tossed Harris' appeal over the search, but the state's high court said prosecutors did not prove Aldo's reliability.

"The state presented the following evidence: Aldo had been trained to detect drugs since January 2004 and certified to detect drugs since February 2004; Officer Wheetley trains Aldo for approximately four hours per week, deploys Aldo approximately five times per month, and attends a forty-hour annual training seminar; and Aldo's success rate during training is  really good," the decision states. "Aldo's weekly training records reveal that from November 2005 to June 2006, Aldo performed satisfactorily 100% of the time. However, there was no testimony as to whether a satisfactory performance includes any false alerts. The record is also scarce on the details of Aldo's training, including whether the trainer was aware of the locations of the drugs and whether the training simulated a variety of environments and distractions."

One justice dissented and another recused himself.

In taking up the case for further review, the U.S. Supreme Court did not comment on its decision, as is its custom. It granted the National Police Canine Association's petition to file an amicus brief, and it granted Harris leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

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