The U.S. Supreme Court has granted petitions of the State of Florida in Florida v. Jardines, Docket No. 11-564, and Florida v. Harris, Docket No. 11-817, setting the stage for the court’s first major police canine decisions in seven years. Both cases are set for argument in the 2012 October term. In Jardines, the court will consider whether probable cause is needed to conduct a front-door sniff. In Harris, the court will consider whether, to establish probable cause for a vehicle search following a dog’s alert, the prosecution must present complete field records for the dog, not just its training and certification records.

Narcotics detection dogs are trained to detect the odors of common illicit drugs including marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Such dogs use their acute olfactory ability to locate these target odors and then signal their handlers with an alert when such an odor is present. The dog first demonstrates an obvious behavior change such as an abrupt head turn, change of pace, tail movement, hair raising etc. This action is followed by a trained final response which may be sitting, staring, lying down (passive), or barking or scratching (active or aggressive). Together the obvious behavior change and the trained final response comprise an alert, though the term is sometimes applied to a specific change in behavior or a final response alone.

Prior Sniff Cases

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