Montana News Association MNA PRESS GOVERNMENT
TRYING TO OVERTURN COURT VICTORY AGAINST DRUG DOGS
government is trying to overturn a court victory against drug dogs by taking
it all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Florida's Attorney General
filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the case of Florida v. Gary Alan
A lower court had held
that police dogs used to sniff out illicit narcotics must be properly trained
and evaluated, with thorough records kept, before their responses may be
deemed reliable in court as the basis for searching people or their vehicles.
"Local law enforcement
sometimes does not do enough to ensure that drug-detecting dogs are conditioned
to 'alert' to contraband alone, as opposed to some other odor triggers"
said Attorney Rex Curry, the attorney who started the case with a motion
to suppress evidence. The ruling laid down a set of guidelines that police
departments should follow if they want to use evidence obtained through
the use of dogs.
"Law enforcement uses
drug-detecting dogs as a way to circumvent the Constitution's requirement
that a judge issue a warrant, and the police don't want their dogs scrutinized
too closely" said Attorney Curry "and there is the added concern that some
police use the dogs for improper searches by claiming that the dogs alert
even when the dogs don't alert. Some police do that to punish drivers who
exercise their Fourth Amendment rights and refuse to consent to search upon
request. It is a police-state tactic."
On the street, drug-sniffing
dogs are often used when a driver, pulled over for a traffic infraction,
refuses to give police consent for his vehicle to be searched. The deputy
or officer handling the dog will direct it around the perimeter of the car.
If the dog alerts to the presence of narcotics, police are deemed to have
probable cause and may conduct a legal search of the car's interior.
"Why should a driver
pulled over for speeding be subject to an intrusive search? If police have
no cause to believe the driver is a drug runner, why should dogs be used
at all?" asked Curry, "In truth, they shouldn't be, but the U.S. Supreme
Court has said the use of drug-sniffing dogs doesn't constitute a search
under the Fourth Amendment, and that means police may use them with impunity."
In the Matheson case,
a drug-detecting dog named Razor was used in May 1999 to smell a car driven
by Matheson. He had been stopped for a traffic infraction. He had denied
consent to search when asked. A wait occurred for a drug dog to arrive and
after the dog alerted to the presence of drugs, the car was searched and
illegal drugs were found. The lower court refused to suppress the evidence,
and Matheson pleaded no contest and appealed.
In reversing the conviction,
an appeals court found that Razor's alert was not reliable, due to the poor
training and record-keeping done by the Sheriff's Office. Among many deficiencies,
Razor's success and failure rate was not documented, he had not been given
training to ignore residual odors of contraband, and the dog had not been
subject to controlled negative testing (where the dog is asked to search
when drugs are known not to be present) .
"Rather than being appealed
by Florida to the Supreme Court, the ruling should be a model for the nation,"
Many airport employees double as paid informers for the police. The Drug
Enforcement Administration usually pays them 10 percent of any money seized,
says Capt. Judy Bawcum, head of the Nashville police division that runs an
Paying police a percentage of money seized creates an incentive for lies
Marijuana presents its own problems for dogs since its very pungent
smell is long-lasting. Trainers have testified that drug dogs can react
to clothing containers or cars months after marijuana has been removed. A
1989 case in Richmond, Va., addressed the issue of how reliable dogs are
in marijuana searches. Jack Adams, a special agent with the Virginia State
Police, supervised training of drug dogs for the state. He said the odor
from a single suitcase filled with marijuana and placed with 100 other bags
in a closed Amtrak baggage car in Miami could permeate all the other bags
in the car by the time the train reached Richmond.
And what happens to the mountain of "drug-contaminated" dollars the government
seized each year ? The bills aren't burned, cleaned, or stored in a well-guarded
warehouse. Twenty-one seizing agencies questioned all said that tainted money
was deposited in a local bank - which means it's back in circulation and
also rubbing up against other bills.