U.S. Supreme Court to Decide on Florida Drug-Sniffing Dog Cases, Tallahassee Drug Defense Lawyer Don Pumphrey, Jr., Comments on Impact

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The U.S. Supreme Court will be handing down decisions, possibly this week, on two Florida cases involving the constitutionality of the use of drug-sniffing dogs and the Fourth Amendment concerns of this tactic. Tallahassee drug defense lawyer Don Pumphrey, Jr., comments on the privacy and criminal defense ramifications of these decisions.

"A dog cannot answer a defense lawyer's questions. At the very least, though, police should be required to prove the dog's competence," said Don Pumphrey Jr., Tallahassee drug defense lawyer.

As early as Tuesday or Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court may hand down rulings on two Florida cases that could have a significant impact on one of the police's most important tools they use to prosecute the Drug War: drug-sniffing dogs. In Florida v. Jardines (U.S. Sup. Ct. 11-564) and Florida v. Harris (U.S. Sup. Ct. 11-817), the Court will decide, respectively, whether it constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment when dogs are used, outside a person's home and whether a dog's alert can give police probable cause to conduct a search. Rulings on either case could profoundly affect the way police collect evidence, said Tallahassee drug defense lawyer Don Pumphrey, Jr.

"Drug-sniffing dogs are commonly used to cross the threshold into probable cause when police have a vague suspicion that someone possesses narcotics, but not enough evidence to obtain a warrant or otherwise conduct a legal search," Pumphrey said. "Either case will determine how evidence obtained by use of drug-sniffing dogs can be used."

In Florida v. Jardines, according to Court documents, the defendant, Joelis Jardines, was allegedly growing marijuana in a house in Miami. Police received a tip that the house was being used for such purposes. They did not check to see whether the tip was reliable and did not attempt to obtain a search warrant, which would have allowed them to make a legal search of the home, according to Court documents.

They then called in the K-9 unit, according to Court documents. The dog, Franky, walked up to the front porch, circled, and sat down, an "alert" for marijuana, which triggered police to seek and obtain a warrant, according to Court documents.

At issue is whether sending the dog to sniff out what is inside a home constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. A person's home has traditionally had a heightened expectation of privacy in constitutional review, Pumphrey said. If the police can use dogs to find drugs, police might use dogs to detect legal, private activity, he added.

"The Supreme Court will be opening up a real can of worms for privacy if they rule that police can send a dog up to someone's house based on such specious evidence to sniff out drugs," Pumphrey said. "Such a ruling could ultimately mean that a person's activity inside his or her own home is not private as long as a dog's keen sense of smell can detect it from the outside."

In Florida v. Harris, according to Court documents, the defendant, Clayton Harris, was pulled over by a K-9 unit in Blountstown for an expired license plate. Harris was shaking, according to the officer, and refused to give permission to search, according to Court documents. The officer brought the dog, Aldo, around the exterior of the truck, which then gave an alert, and the officer searched the truck's interior and found ingredients for making meth, according to Court documents.

Police, in this case, did not maintain records on Aldo's performance, according to Court documents. If the state cannot prove a dog is well-trained, it cannot show probable cause, Pumphrey said.

"The Constitution gives defendants to right to confront witnesses against them, which means I, as a Tallahassee drug defense lawyer, have the opportunity to cross-examine them on the stand," Pumphrey said. "A dog cannot answer a defense lawyer's questions. At the very least, though, police should be required to prove the dog's competence."

The state argues that there is no requirement for certainty in evidence for probable cause.
Both cases went before the Florida Supreme Court, and the Court ruled against the state in both cases. The U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments October 31. According to reports from SCOTUSBlog, justices seemed skeptical of the state's claim on Jardines but favorable to the state on Harris. The Court is releasing opinions Tuesday and Wednesday, and this case could be among them.

Don Pumphrey, Jr., of the Law Offices of Don Pumphrey, Jr., is a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney who represents those accused of drug and marijuana offenses, driving under the influence (DUI), and felony and misdemeanor crimes throughout the greater panhandle region of Florida, including Leon County and the surrounding areas of Jefferson County, Wakulla County, Liberty County and Gadsden County.

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