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February 19, 2013

A big day for search and seizure fans via today's SCOTUS opinions

Aldo dogThe US Supreme Court handed down four merits opinions in previously argued cases today, and two of them involve criminal justice issues. Because the cases involve the front-end of the CJ system (police practices) rather than the back end (sentencing), for now I will be content just to report on the SCOTUSblog reports on these two rulings (with a few tweaks for clarity):

First opinion — Harris (dog sniffs) — Kagan for the Court reversing the Florida S. Ct. unanimously.

The Court holds that because training and testing records supported the dog's reliability, and the defendant failed to undermine that evidence, there was probable cause to search the defendant's truck....  Here's a photo of Aldo, the dog in that case.

Here's the opinion in Florida v. Harris....  The Harris opinion does not refer to the Jardines opinion, so we may not get it today after all.  From the Harris opinion: "The Florida Supreme Court flouted this established approach to determining probable cause." (Ouch.)...

Third opinion -- Bailey v. United States -- per Kennedy, the Second Circuit is reversed. The vote is 6-3, with Breyer, Thomas, and Alito dissenting....

The Court holds that Michigan v. Summers is limited to the immediate vicinity of the premises.  Justice Scalia writes separately.  Kagan and Ginsburg join both the Court's opinion and the Scalia concurrence.

This was the case about searching someone on the basis of a warrant to search a house, when they have left the premises.  Here is the opinion in Bailey v. US....

The Court will have more opinions at 10 am tomorrow. Again, we do not know which ones or how many there will be.  The other dog-sniffing case is 11-564, Fla. v. Jardines.  It did not come out today.

February 19, 2013 at 10:29 AM | Permalink


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So let's see. A cop wants to search a vehicle. So he runs his dog around it and the dog alerts. After searching the vehicle, it turns out the dog was actually wrong, because the vehicle doesn't have drugs. Then the same cop wants to search the same car and uses the same dog, which alerts again, and is wrong again. But this evidence isn't as important as a certification by some other cops that the dog is a good drug sniffing dog?

Why don't we just be honest and go ahead and say that cops can search any vehicle they want, whenever they feel like it. It really is tiresome watching judges embarrass themselves with this crap.

Posted by: C.E. | Feb 20, 2013 12:17:43 AM

"The dog may have detected substances that were too well hidden or present in quantities too small for the officer to locate. Or the dog may have smelled the residual odor of drugs previously in the vehicle or on the driver’s person"

Thus, even if no drugs are found, the odor often "establishes a fair probability" that meets 4A purposes. But, the defense can still bring the matter up in the suppression hearing & the judge can balance each side, determining probable cause.

Not quite a free pass to do whatever they want here. If the dog alerts to something of a too minute amount, a line might be crossed. I also think the dissent was right in Il v. Caballes. The ruling here seems acceptable though.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 20, 2013 12:33:25 PM

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