High Court Rules on Drug Dogs, Police Detentions

By Andrew Lu on February 20, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings Tuesday in separate cases involving police drug dogs and police detentions in relation to a search.

One ruling seems to give police more freedom to conduct searches using drug-sniffing dogs, while the other works to limit police and their ability to detain suspects when officers are conducting a search of their home.

Here's what you need to know:

Drug Sniffing Dogs

The Supreme Court found that police could rely on their drug sniffing dogs for probable cause to conduct a search if the dogs have satisfactorily completed training for drug searches, reports Reuters.

In a case out of Florida, a state court had held that a police officer could not rely on his drug-sniffing dog for probable cause to conduct a search of a car, because the dog's reliability in sniffing out drugs was never established.

However, the Supreme Court stepped in and ruled that the dog's "sniff (was) up to snuff." Justices found that "satisfactory performance" by the dog in certification and training was enough to give the officer probable cause to believe there were drugs in the car. The Court found this to be the case even though errors "may abound" when dogs get put to the test in the field.

Police Detentions

In a separate ruling, the Court made it harder for police to detain suspects far away from a crime scene when the only reason is to make it safer and easier to conduct a search of the scene, reports Reuters.

In a New York case, the Court found that officers violated a defendant's rights when they detained him a mile away from his home so that they could conduct a search of his basement.

While the Court found that police may detain people in connection with executing a search warrant, the Court had issue with the physical distance (in this case, 1 mile) between the detention and the place being searched. The Court held that officers needed a valid reason to justify a far-away detention.

What These Cases Mean for You

The two cases together basically show that the court does not have one ideological direction in increasing or decreasing police powers. The effect of the police dog case may be that officers will be more likely to rely upon their drug-sniffing canines. As for the police detention case, officers may just need to find a better reason to detain a suspect when he's a mile away from the place being searched.

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