Jacob Sullum

Such factors help explain why searches triggered by drug-sniffing dogs so often fail to find the substances supposedly detected by the animals' keen noses: 56 percent of the time in a 2011 Chicago Tribune analysis; 74 percent in a 2006 Australian study; 96 percent in a 1984 Florida roadblock operation. Yet the state of Florida insists Aldo's track record is irrelevant in determining whether Wheetley's search of Harris' truck was legally justified. It says courts should simply accept police assurances that a dog is "well-trained."

Amazingly, the Supreme Court last week seemed inclined to accept that argument, which gives cops with sufficiently accommodating dogs the ability to search at will. The justices were more troubled by the implications of that dog license in the case involving Franky, a Labrador retriever whose alert to the front door of a Dade County, Fla., house was the basis for a search warrant that led to Joelis Jardines' 2006 arrest for growing marijuana.

Even Justice Antonin Scalia, who in the Harris case ridiculed the notion that cops might prefer dogs who let them search whatever and whenever they want, seemed persuaded that police should have a warrant before bringing canine detectives to your doorstep for the purpose of uncovering information about what is happening inside your home. Otherwise, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, police "could take a dog and go (up to) every house on the street, every apartment in the building."

If you think you have nothing to fear from such olfactory dragnets because you have not broken the law, you should take a closer look at when and why dog alerts lead to fruitless searches of innocent people. So should the Supreme Court.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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