Supreme Court

Supreme Court Takes on Drug-Sniffing Dogs

A cop with an accommodating canine can search whatever he wants.


Our dog, a Maltese/Yorkshire terrier mix named Lana, knows one trick: She sits on command. Sometimes this will get her a peanut, but it does not really do anything for me.

When Aldo and Franky sit, by contrast, they accomplish something important for their police handlers, signaling the presence of illegal drugs and justifying searches that would otherwise be prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. Two cases the Supreme Court heard last week offer an opportunity to impose long overdue restraints on this amazing ability to transform a cop's hunch into probable cause, which is based on serious misconceptions about the meaning of a police dog's "alert."

Aldo, a German shepherd, was riding with Officer William Wheetley of the Liberty County, Florida, sheriff 's office on June 24, 2006, when Wheetley pulled over a pickup truck driven by Clayton Harris because of an expired tag. Harris seemed nervous to Wheetley, who later said he was shaking, restless, and breathing rapidly.

Wheetley asked for permission to search the truck, and Harris said no. But thanks to Aldo and the Supreme Court, Wheetley did not have to stop there. Seven years ago, the Court declared that "the use of a well-trained narcotics-detection dog…during a lawful traffic stop generally does not implicate legitimate privacy interests." So Wheetley was free to walk Aldo around the truck.

According to Wheetley, Aldo got excited and sat down in front of the driver's side door handle, thereby allowing him to search the vehicle. Wheetley did not find any substances that Aldo is trained to detect, but he did find 200 pseudoephedrine tablets, along with other chemicals and supplies used to make methamphetamine.

About two months later, Wheetley stopped Harris again, this time ostensibly because of a malfunctioning brake light, and went through the same ritual. According to Wheetley, Aldo alerted to the same door handle, but once again there were no drugs in the vehicle.

Wheetley speculated that on both occasions Aldo smelled traces of meth transferred from Harris' hand, which might be true (although a smell on the outside of a vehicle does not necessarily originate with its owner). But perhaps Wheetley, keen to confirm his suspicions about Harris, misinterpreted Aldo's behavior or subconsciously cued him to alert.

Such factors help explain why searches triggered by drug-sniffing dogs so often fail to find the substances supposedly detected by the animals' keen noses: 56 percent of the time in a 2011 Chicago Tribune analysis, 74 percent in a 2006 Australian study, 96 percent in a 1984 Florida roadblock operation. Yet the state of Florida insists Aldo's track record is irrelevant in determining whether Wheetley's search of Harris' truck was legally justified. It says courts should simply accept police assurances that a dog is "well-trained."

Amazingly, the Supreme Court last week seemed inclined to accept that argument, which gives cops with sufficiently accommodating dogs the ability to search at will. The justices were more troubled by the implications of that dog license in the case involving Franky, a Labrador retriever whose alert to the front door of a Dade County, Florida, house was the basis for a search warrant that led to Joelis Jardines' 2006 arrest for growing marijuana.

Even Justice Antonin Scalia, who in the Harris case ridiculed the notion that cops might prefer dogs who let them search whatever and whenever they want, seemed persuaded that police should have a warrant before bringing canine detectives to your doorstep for the purpose of uncovering information about what is happening inside your home. Otherwise, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, police "could take a dog and go [up to] every house on the street, every apartment in the building."

If you think you have nothing to fear from such olfactory dragnets because you have not broken the law, you should take a closer look at when and why dog alerts lead to fruitless searches of innocent people. So should the Supreme Court.

NEXT: Need a Hug?

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  1. My dog just dectected a recycled article that also knocked the brickbat with the sexy girls on it off the page.

    1. -1 article with sexy girls

      BAD DOG!

  2. “Amazingly, the Supreme Court last week seemed inclined to accept that argument…”

    Amazingly? Where have you been for the last 75 or so years Sullum?

  3. Hey Reason, us blog veterans have extraordinarily long memories on the interwebz. Go ahead and bask in your “principled non-vote” today;a year from now, I cant wait for the yummy “principled” tears after Obama steamrolls everything he wants. The country as a whole has gone hard left, and the exit polls verify this. This election, as much as you hipster writers have downplayed it, is going to have serious consequences. This election may very well have been THE anti-small government referendum.

    1. Haha, you can take your “austerity” and cram it.

      I gots my free moneyz, suckah!

      Not to mention that the ‘hipster writers’ are actually correct. The election was meaningless and will have no consequences, since the only candidate who would have done anything different got less than 1% of the vote.

      1. It wasnt so much Romney losing, but the senate races that were depressing.

        And no, Romney may be the last * slightly* right of center candidate if the exit polls are any indication. This election has proven that the sheeple electorate does obviously not want a small govt libertarian. Really, Fuck Ohio-Florida-Virginia-and the potheads in Colorado.

        1. Im not saying Romney was a “small govt libertarian” at all, if that sentence was confusing. But if Romney is a “far right Randian” with his 5% discretionary cuts…….then what are we to the left-wing majority in this country?

          Welcome to New France. All hail Hollande-Obama!

          1. Romney losing was the only chance ‘we’ have for the Republican party nominating a non-Democrat Statist candidate.

            There’s only a miniscule chance the the Retardlicans will actually learn from their mistakes and idiocy, but that’s still somewhat better than the ZERO percent chance of having a small gov’t candidate nominated if Mittler had won.

            Most likely though, they’ll fail that and just pick someone more statist and leftier, but also more anti-abortion and anti-immigration than Romney.

            1. Just once I’d like to see them put up a Gary Johnson or a Ron Paul. I think the small-government ideas were most of Reagan’s appeal, even if he didn’t live up to them too well.

              1. PHOD, are you in the city of Richmond or in the outlying counties? Because being a libertarian in the city would be a little depressing.

                1. I have two places, one outside of Richmond and one in a rural area on the Chesapeake Bay.

                  And yes, being libertarian-ish is depressing in both places. I find myself stuck between the liberals who think we need lots of laws to keep everyone from starving, and conservatives who think we need lots of laws to keep people from hacking each other into bite-sized pieces.

          2. Welcome to New France. All hail Hollande-Obama!

            France?! With the debt they’re racking up and the inflation that will have to come from it, we’ll be lucky not to end up the next Haiti.

            1. UBOR is our bitter-tears troll for the day it seems.

              1. Ah, ah-ah-ah! Bitter dregs!

    2. Voted GJ, but I wouldn’t have bothered if the presidential election was separated from state and local measures.

      It’s probably better that Romney loose. Here’s why: Romney may be a bit marginally better, but nowhere near enough to make any difference whatsoever. Shit’s is going downhill no matter what. The question is, who do you want to be seen as captain responsible for this sinking ship?

      Everything falsely associated with Romney/Ryan, any good libertarian idea, would have been horribly tarred.

      For example, check out this rant over the book Beyond Democracy:…..67U46WD9B7
      The book has nothing to do with Paul Ryan or Ayn Rand and yet the guy is just in hysterics.

      Better to use this opportunity to speculate, capitalize on some gross distortions, lay low and make as much money as you can now, and diversify yourself outside the country.

      1. “We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions” -Barack Obama, 9/7/2012

        And so it begans. I really just came to the conclusion that the conservatives have been screaming about for months; this was no normal election, it was a philosophical referendum. Take a look at the exit polls as well. The country has gone hard left.

        1. You said “hard” – huh huh

        2. With the per capita debt well past Greece’s levels, does it matter? What happens when the currency collapses?

          1. Two men enter, one man leaves….

            1. Funny that their ammo went bad but the gasoline was still fresh. Australia really is upside down!

        3. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were another Businessmen’s Plot.

          So enjoy the “Happy Days” while you can.

        4. Obama is an incumbent president who just barely won a majority with the absolute worst candidate the GOP could have picked to run against him. Obama should have wiped the floor with Romney, and just barely won. And you construe this as evidence that the country has gone “hard left”?!?

          1. Two points: Mitt Dukakis was hardly the worst candidate the GOP could have run. Either Paul or Santorum, never mind Gingrich or Trump, would have lost by even more than Romney. (Not that this will stop the GOP from running Santorum in 2016.) Seriously, what differences were there between Dukakis and Romney? Strange that a guy who could have run under the Dem banner in 1988 is considered by the media to be such a right-wing partisan.

            Second, I wouldn’t count Obama as having barely won. He outperformed his poll averages by 3-4 points in each of the swing states. With the result that the election was over by 10 PM central. ‘Close’ is Bush v. Gore, or Clinton in ’92. Obama got over 50% of the vote, with quite large Democrat turnout. Though he still had fewer votes than McCain picked up four years ago. Guess some of those Republicans should have voted…

            Finally, it’s not going to get any better for the GOP. The fastest growing groups in this country are minorities. Hispanics, specifically. They aren’t as lock-step Dem as blacks, but they still vote Dem somewhere around 3 to 1. Figuring out how to win them is the only way the GOP is going to remain relevant. Good luck.

            1. Batman TAS, FTW! Great Episode!

    3. It is people like you that make me glad Romney lost.


    Why would the coppers want a drug-sniffing dog that’s defective and has to be told when to indicate drugs?

  5. Oh, and I advocate abandoning the current Free State Project. New Hampshire was just like the rest of the new left of center nation. Its time try Utah, Puerto Rico, or maybe New Zealand. Get your passports, boys and girls.

    1. Strangely, the only thing NH got right was to insert an income tax ban into the state constitution. Then they voted straight D at the governor’s mansion and national level. Commie Shea-Porter is my representative again for the next two years. Ugh.

      1. I honestly dont know where to go after this. Ohio has proven itself once again to be the retarded cousin of Pennsylvania.

        Sherrod ‘socialist’ Brown just got himself another 6 years.

        1. The first problem is that more MA residents are leaving that sinking ship and moving north than Free Staters are moving in. The second problem is those MA transplants are voting to turn New Hampshire into North Massachusetts.

          1. If they had any sense of history, they’d do it to Maine.

            1. Ayup

          2. Yeah, Ive crossed quite a few states off my relocation list. Ive heard quite a bit about the Masshole invasion-same thing is happening in Texas with Californians.

        2. OH re-elected BROWN?

          Holy fuck am I glad I got out of Ohio.

          Oh, wait, I’m in Michigan, where we re-elected Stabenow.


    2. Estonia is currently my retirement plan.

      Why do all the good people have to live where it’s freezing.

      But if Puerto Rico keeps going the way they’re going, it might move up on my list.

      1. Because cold is very effective at killing stoopid.

        1. This fail to account for Al Franken and Michele Bachmann.

          1. I still can’t believe she willingly renounced her Swiss citizenship

    3. I dunno, the Free State Project does seem to be making a difference. And NH is the only state in the northeast of its kind, maybe in the entire US of you want a mix of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism.

      The problem is the Federal gov, for example:

      The state constitution is one of the few that does not expressly require public schools. However, in 1993, the state Supreme Court ruled in the first Claremont suit[1] that a constitutional duty to “cherish the interest of…public schools”[2] required the state to define and fund equal public schools statewide. The legislature complied slowly; in 2008, the Court ended[3] its supervisory role because the original laws had been replaced, but it did not reverse its earlier finding.

      1. Claremont was a disaster. Instead of improving the quality of rural schools, it lowered the quality of all the public schools in the state.

    4. Utah?

      1. Yeah. Sunny weather, wax the skis, strong libertarian roots..

  6. We’ve just had THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE and you’re posting about DOGS??

    For a magazine called “Guns n Ammo”….

  7. Also, I’m not goin’ ANYwhere. Gonna get out my lawn chair and some beers and watch the Titanic sit from right here on the bandstand. Gonna go down with the ship and enjoy the ride as best I can. WOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

    PS Oddly enough, I did not secure enough votes to be elected President last night. Last count was “1”, cause I did vote for myself. Oh well – nothing ventured…

    1. Please substitute “Sink” for “Sit” above.

      Need moar caffeine. My typing skills are even worse than normal this AM.

      If only there were a “preview” function on this blasted blog site…

      1. My typing skills are even worse than normal this AM.

        My typing has been so bad lately I’ve scheduled a physical.

  8. Hyperinflation is coming.

    I would take out what you can from the bank, convert it into something sound, hunker down, and play this in the background.

  9. and play this in the background.

    “Welcome everybody to the wild, wild west!” Heard the song many times, never saw the video. Nice to know there’s still dancing in post-apocalyptic Oakland.

    Hyperinflation is coming.

    Not because of this election, but yeah, the odds of hyperinflation look to be increasing significantly.

    All that said, I suspect you’re making fun.

  10. Feck off, cops.

    Got bacon?

  11. warrant before bringing canine detectives to your doorstep for the purpose of uncovering information about what is happening inside your home. Otherwise, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, police “could take a dog and go [up to] every house on the street, every apartment in the building.”

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