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Florida v. Harris Supreme Court 2013 Decision: SCOTUS Sides Against Civil Liberties Argument

The Supreme Court has issued opinion in dog sniff case Florida v. Harris, a civil liberties case that argued that drug/ bomb sniffing dogs that alert police to potential illegal activity aren’t evidence enough for police to search private property.

The Supreme Court has sided with the dogs in this one.

[See the full decision here.]

In a line, the Court basically says that cops don’t need to prove a drug dog is 100% accurate in its decision in order to get probably cause to search, say, a vehicle. If the dog alerts the officer, that’s probable cause, even if it’s a false positive.

Of course, the civil liberties question remains here. Police could still search innocents without more evidence, unnecessarily targeting individuals who committed no crime.

The Court considers these dogs to be evidence enough, though.

Florida v. Harris was a case in which SCOTUS assessed the reliability of a dog sniff by a detection dog trained to identify narcotics, and whether law enforcement's assertions that the dog is trained or certified is sufficient to establish probable cause for a search of a vehicle under the Fourth Amendment. Can a dog provide probable cause?

To date, the Supreme Court has always considered the dog sniff to be infallible, and as a result, they have maintained that a dog sniff is not a "search" under the Fourth Amendment. Harris is the first Supreme Court case to challenge the dog's reliability – backed by data that asserts that on average, up to 80% of a dog's alerts are wrong.

Harris is opposed by 25 states, the federal government, and two U.S. territories, among others.

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