PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — In a pair of cases involving routine traffic stops, the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors must prove the reliability of a drug detection dog when a police officer relies on the dog to conduct a search without a warrant.
In the unanimous opinions, the court ruled Thursday that several factors must be weighed to determine reliability, including training and certification.
In one case, the court upheld the Yamhill County methamphetamine possession conviction of a man arrested after a dog led officers to a pipe with drug residue found inside a car. In the companion case, also involving methamphetamine, the court ruled the dog was not proven to be reliable and overturned a Umatilla County trial court.
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the use of drug-sniffing dogs during routine traffic stops in a ruling in 2005.
The Oregon Supreme Court ruled the reliability test should apply in such cases, and should include some indication of the dog's field performance record.
Peter Gartlan, chief defender for the state Office of Public Defense Services, said the Oregon Supreme Court rejected defense arguments that a key factor in determining the reliability of the dogs should be the level of training.
Gartlan said one training method, the so-called "play-reward" system, ensures only that the dogs will detect the odor of drugs, allowing police to conduct a warrantless search even if there are no drugs in the vehicle.
"For instance, if you rent a car, and the previous renter smoked marijuana in it, the dog will alert officers to search the rented car even if there's nothing in it," Gartlan said.
Gartlan said he had asked the court to adopt a tougher training standard called "imprinting," which requires dogs to alert officers only when there are drugs present rather than merely detecting their odor.
Brian Hulke, a Sherman County sheriff's deputy who trained the dog in the Yamhill County case, said that detecting an odor more often than not leads to recovery of drugs or drug-related items, in his experience.
The court noted in the Yamhill County case, his dog, Benny, had a field performance record showing that 66 percent of the dog's alerts to a trace of drugs resulted in the recovery of drugs or paraphernalia.
"It's a huge asset," Hulke said, noting the dogs are also used for a variety of other jobs, including searches in prisons and airports.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.