Drug Dog or K9 Alert for Drugs is Insufficient to Allow Police Search

In Florida, a common scenario in drug cases occurs when the police pulls a driver over and suspects the driver has illegal drugs in his/her vehicle. The piolice officer may ask for consent to search the vehicle for drugs, or the police officer may bring a drug dog, or K9, to the scene to sniff the area around the vehicle for the odior of illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methaphetamine. The drug dog is presumably trained and certified to detect to the odor of illegal drugs and indicate a particular signal to the police officer handler who recognizes the signal as an indication that there is an odor of illegal drugs coming from the vehicle. In some jurisdictions, when the drug dog alerts, this is sufficient problable case to justify a search of the vejhicle by the police.

However, in Florida, the state has the burden of proof that a search of one’s vejhicle for illegal drugs is based on probable cause, and merely presenting evidence that a trained drug dog alerted to an odor of illegal drugs does not meet this burden. The state must prove that the drug dog, and the police officer handler, were sufficiently trained and certified to detect the odor of illegal drugs. However, this is the beginning of the analysis, not the end. The state must provide details of the drug dog’s training and the drug dog’s performance during training. The state must also present evidence of how often the drug dog gave false alerts in training and in the field after training. The court should also look at instances where the drug dog alerted to a residual odor of illegal drugs, i.e. where drugs were not found in the vehicle but evidence sugests they were previously in the vehicle.

In some cases, the courts have been satisfied with a drug dog’s reliability to detect an odor of illegal drugs as long as the state has shown the drug dog had the proper training and credentials. However, Florida law requires a much more detailed huistory of the training, success and failure of a drug dog’s ability to actually detect the presence of illegal drugs.

for example, in a recent cocaine and marijuana case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the evidence of the cocaine and marijuana, and the possession of marijuana and cocaine charges, were thrown out because the trained and certified drug dog had a success rate of just over 25% in detecting the presence of actual illegal drugs in the field in almost thirty attempts.

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