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Justices decline to review drug-sniffing dog case from Md.

A dog sniffs baggage at the Baltimore cuise terminal. (File)

A dog sniffs baggage at the Baltimore cruise terminal. (File)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined without comment to review a Maryland high-court decision that appellate courts must defer to trial judges’ determinations – unless clearly wrong – that a drug-sniffing dog was reliable.

Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe had urged the justices in vain to overturn the Court of Appeals’ ruling, saying the reliability issue is too constitutionally significant to leave unreviewed. In papers filed with the Supreme Court, DeWolfe said police officers’ reliance on a dog’s detection of drugs is often the decisive factor they cite in saying they had “probable cause” to search a vehicle, as required by the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

DeWolfe sought review on behalf of Brian Grimm, who wanted the justices to review anew the trial judge’s finding that a drug-detecting dog reliably smelled drugs in Grimm’s car.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh chose not to submit a reply to DeWolfe’s request for Supreme Court review unless the justices asked for a response, which they never did.

The case was docketed at the Supreme Court as Brian Grimm v. State of Maryland, No. 18-117.

In its April decision, the Court of Appeals essentially upheld the sniffing talents of Ace, who alerted his police handler to the potential presence of drugs in Grimm’s car after police had stopped him for failing to wear a seat belt on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway near Arundel Mills on April 9, 2014. Officers found heroin during the subsequent search.

Grimm pleaded guilty to possession of heroin with intent to distribute after Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge William C. Mulford said Ace’s signal gave the officers probable cause to search. Grimm was sentenced to 15 years in prison but permitted to argue on appeal his right against unreasonable searches had been violated because Ace was an unreliable drug sniffer.

The Court of Appeals rejected Grimm’s suggestions, through counsel, to review Mulford’s determination anew and to set standards for judging a drug-sniffing dog’s reliability.

“Grimm barks up the wrong tree in asserting that, because there are no generally accepted standards in Maryland regarding the training and certification of drug detection dogs, appellate courts must provide guidance to law enforcement agencies,” Judge Shirley M. Watts wrote for the high court.

“The Fourth Amendment does not require such standards,” she added. “Just as no constitutional provision requires set standards for the training and certification of drug detection dogs, no Maryland statute does, either.”

Judge Sally D. Adkins, in a concurring opinion, said appellate courts should review a drug-sniffing dog’s reliability based on the “totality of the circumstances.” Adkins in Grimm’s case that testimony from officers who trained Ace and the dog’s training record showed the canine to be reliable.

The Court of Appeals rendered its decision in Brian Grimm v. State of Maryland, No. 37 September Term 2017.

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