U.S. Supreme Court
Search and Seizure — probable cause — drug-sniffing dogs
The State is not required to keep field-performance records for drug-sniffing dogs to establish probable cause.
In testing whether an officer has probable cause to conduct a search, all that is required is the kind of “fair probability” on which “reasonable and prudent [people] act.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U. S. 213. To evaluate whether the State has met this practical and common-sensical standard, this Court has consistently looked to the totality of the circumstances and rejected rigid rules, bright-line tests, and mechanistic inquiries. Ibid.
The Florida Supreme Court flouted this established approach by creating a strict evidentiary checklist to assess a drug-detection dog’s reliability. Requiring the State to introduce comprehensive documentation of the dog’s prior hits and misses in the field, and holding that absent field records will preclude a finding of probable cause no matter how much other proof the State offers, is the antithesis of a totality-of-the-circumstances approach. This is made worse by the State Supreme Court’s treatment of field-performance records as the evidentiary gold standard when, in fact, such data may not capture a dog’s false negatives or may markedly overstate a dog’s false positives. Such inaccuracies do not taint records of a dog’s performance in standard training and certification settings, making that performance a better measure of a dog’s reliability. Field records may sometimes be relevant, but the court should evaluate all the evidence, and should not prescribe an inflexible set of requirements.
71 So. 3d 756, reversed.