Montana News Association MNA Press
by Montana News Association MNA PRESS

The 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 Matheson.

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," said Curry.

Police officers said "If you don't consent to search, we'll kill this dog!"
sniffer dogs, police dogs, drugs dogs, narco dogs, drug detection dogs, bomb dogs, explosives dogs, narcotics dogs, Consent or we will kill this dog.

For the Supreme Court docket information see  
For more information on drug dogs see
Playboy Magazine

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 airport unit.

Paying police a percentage of money seized creates an incentive for lies and frame-ups.

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.