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The US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that it is constitutional for police to search a car simply on the basis of an alert signal from a sniffer dog.
The court took up the issue in October of last year, looking at two cases involving drug-detecting canines, both in Florida in 2006. On Tuesday it ruled on one of them.
In it a dog named Aldo snapped into alert mode in front of the door of a car whose driver had been stopped by police for having an expired license plate.
Under the seat police discovered 200 pills intended for making methamphetamine. Several weeks later, the same dog stopped the same individual and alerted his handler but no drugs were detected this time.
The driver doubted the reliability of the dog and argued that searching his car was unconstitutional. Aldo is certified to detect methamphetamine but not its ingredients, and was not with his usual handler.
In its ruling the Supreme Court said searches with sniffer dogs were constitutional, and it did not require proof of the dog's reliability.
The court thus overturned a decision by a Florida appeals court and backed the original decision by a lower, trial court.
"The record in this case amply supported the trial court's determination that Aldo's alert gave Weetley probable cause to search the truck," the Supreme Court said. Weetley was the dog's handler.
"The state introduced substantial evidence of Aldo's training and his proficiency in finding drugs," it added.
The court did not issue a ruling on the other drug-sniffing dog case.
In that one a dog named Franky had detected a suspicious odor through an air conditioning duct on the porch of a house in a suburb of Miami where police had been tipped off that marijuana was being grown.
Authorities then obtained a search warrant and confirmed their suspicions.