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The Sniff That was 'Up to Snuff' and 3 More SCOTUS Opinions

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The Supreme Court decided to go big this week, drawing in Court-watchers with the only topic that could actually get people excited about the law after a three-day weekend.

That's right, folks. We've got a puppy decision.

Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court inadvertently sealed Aldo's win as the latest FindLaw Top Dog when it issued a unanimous decision in the German Shepherd's favor in Florida v. Harris.

In Harris, Florida cops enlisted Aldo to conduct a "free air sniff" around Clayton Harris' truck after discovering the Harris had an expired tag and an open container. (The cops had asked for permission to search the vehicle, but Harris refused.) After Aldo alerted, police searched Harris' vehicle and found 200 pseudoephedrine pills and 8,000 matches, (which are ingredients for methamphetamine), according to Reuters.

The Florida Supreme Court tossed Aldo's findings because the state had not demonstrated Aldo's reliability as a drug detector with evidence of his training, certification and performance, and his handler's experience. The Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Elena Kagan, concluded that the cops had probable cause to search Harris' truck because training and testing records supported Aldo's reliability in detecting drugs and Harris failed to undermine that evidence. According to Kagan, "the sniff [was] up to snuff."

Those of you keeping track of the term at home on your SCOTUS-pup scorecard will recall that the Nine actually heard two pooch cases back in October. The other case, Florida v. Jardines, involves the constitutionality of a warrantless drug sniff outside of a home.

That case is still pending, but there were three more SCOTUS opinions today (albeit not of the canine-themed variety).

  • Bailey v. U.S. In this second search decision, the 6-3 Court held that cops can't detain a suspect "incident to a search" when the suspect is more than half a mile away from the search. Over 30 years ago, the Supreme Court held in Michigan v. Summers that the occupants of a house that is being lawfully searched may be detained to facilitate the search and promote officer safety. In Bailey, the majority concluded that "a spatial constraint defined by the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched is therefore required for detentions incident to the execution of a search warrant."
  • Chafin v. Chafin. In another unanimous decision, the Court concluded the return of a child to a foreign country pursuant to a Hague Convention return order does not render a federal appeal of that order moot.
  • FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health System. NPR explains that the Court "dealt a setback" to a hospital merger between two private companies, and that lower courts improperly dismissed challenges to the merger. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the unanimous court that an exception in antitrust law for actions taken by a state or its agencies did not shield the transaction from federal antitrust concerns.

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