In an exhaustive 44 page decision released yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court tightened the screws on K9 cops and their 4 legged partners. The big issue revolves around the general reliability of a K9 drug dog and its handler to bring forward sufficient trustworthy evidence that a trial judge can objectively find probable cause.
First, here is a light hearted example of a drug dog suppression hearing.
The officer must testify at the suppression hearing. The officer will recall all the training and certifications that he and his K9 partner have been through together. He will offer some gratuitous anecdotes about how he takes his partner out several times a week and tests him by planting drugs at a junk yard and doing the “W” search method (up and back, etc.). The officer will then testify that the dog has an excellent record of detecting narcotics. That is the cue for the prosecutor to introduce State’s Exhibits 1-10 that illustrate the pooch’s training, awards, certifications from a quasi-government agency, and perhaps a nice photo of “Zeus” attacking a trainer in one of those dummy foam protective costumes (which has nothing to do at all with narcotics detection). Then, the prosecutor will move to admit the exhibits and conclude his or hire direct exam.
Now, this is the point in the inquiry of “reliability” that drive defense attorneys insane. The officer is asked a simple thread of “yes” or “no” questions.
Q: do you track the number of alerts on traffic stops on an annual basis?
Q: on a monthly basis?
Q: on a weekly basis?
Q: do you log “false alerts” in the field?
Q: so the only logs you keep are “positive hits” that lead to actual drugs found?
Q: you have no recorded logs of “positive hits” that lead to no drugs being found?
Q: Therefore, based only upon your records, your dog has a 100% success rate?
A: (many different responses likely here)
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The bottom line is this. A judge needs to be encouraged to inquire as to the actual field numbers of good hits and strike outs to determine a dogs batting average. Without knowing how many times a dog alerts the handler to drugs in the vehicle, how many times the dog was correct, and how many times the dog was wrong, it is impossible to say the dog is sufficiently reliable to justify a warrantless search of a citizen’s vehicle.
Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court made it law that all trial judges in Florida demand field records of K9’s so judges can see for themselves the reliability of a particular dog. Let’s hope Ohio follows suit soon.