The Supreme Court will soon judge the smelling powers of drug-sniffing dogs. Are the dogs’ noses a fool-proof way to find contraband, or are their findings so inaccurate that they violate people’s right to privacy? In 2005, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that drug-sniffing dogs did not violate someone’s right to privacy because the dogs’ noses revealed “no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess.”
However, Clayton Harris, who was stopped and searched because of a false alert from a drug-sniffing dog, is arguing that the dog’s noses are too inaccurate to make Stevens’ statement correct. According to a recent Chicago Tribune analysis, alerts from drug-sniffing dogs led to drugs or paraphernalia only 44 percent of the time, and only 27 percent of the time for Hispanic drivers. A brief filed in the case argued that dogs smell not the drugs themselves but molecules that are also present in legal substances like snapdragons, petunias, vinegar and old aspirin. The Florida Supreme Court has already ruled that the evidence in Harris’ case should be suppressed, and the United States Supreme Court will hear the case on Wednesday.