The state of Florida, backed by the Obama administration, said such training and certification should be enough for courts.
The kind of “novel, sniff-by-sniff records” the Florida Supreme Court would require would overburden law enforcement and “upend settled law across the nation,” the state said in a brief written by Gregory G. Garre, who served as solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration.
But the law professors, civil libertarians and criminal defense lawyers who support Clayton Harris, the man stopped by Aldo’s handler, Liberty County officer William Wheetley, say that Florida’s proposed standard is not enough.
For one thing, no national standard for certification exists. “There’s no such thing as a well-trained narcotics detection dog,” said Jeffrey Weiner, a criminal defense lawyer from Miami. “It means whatever a trial judge or appellate judge or Supreme Court justice wants it to mean.”
Glen Gifford, Harris’s attorney, told the justices in his brief that Aldo’s certification was out of date and that there was no real record of how he and Wheetley worked together. Aldo alerted to the scent of drugs on the handle of Harris’s vehicle, and a search found the ingredients for methamphetamine inside.
But in the tiny town of Bristol, that was not the only time Wheetley had pulled Harris over. And Aldo alerted to drugs that time, too, but a search came up empty.
That could simply mean that drugs had recently been in the truck but were now removed, or that they were expertly hidden.
But Gifford points to other research that says dogs can alert to other scents or simply have bad days.
And a study last year at the University of California at Davis — disputed by some in the dog-handling industry — was mentioned in several briefs. It indicated that handlers had much to do with when a dog alerted.
It brought together 18 K-9 teams and ran them through a test facility at which the handlers had been told that some targets had been marked and some had not.
Together, the teams racked up 225 false alerts. Only one team was perfect. It was the one that did not alert at all, because there were no drugs in the facility.