United States District Judge Donald Molloy on April 1 ruled that the court will stand behind the nose of Moose—a Missoula County drug-sniffing canine—in the case of suspected meth dealer Christopher Paul Smith.
Molloy reached the decision without allowing the formal hearing Smith’s defense had sought in an attempt to suppress the stash of drugs and other evidence discovered by the police dog.
Smith’s lawyer, Ryan Shaffer, motioned the court in early March to disallow the police seizure of 27 grams of methamphetamine, 15 grams of pot, seven grams of coke, and a Springfield .45 pistol as evidence against his 25-year-old client.
The attorney argued that the cops lacked probable cause to search the defendant’s bags, which sheriff’s deputies found in the bed of an ’89 Ford pickup that, they say, Smith abandoned following a high-speed chase through Missoula last August.
Detectives cited officer intuition—and Moose’s fine sense of smell—as their probable cause for searching the truck, and received a search warrant based on those criteria.
But there’s the rub, the defense says. When detectives eventually arrested Smith on Oct. 26—along with alleged accomplice James Blodgett, in Room 420 of the Super 8 Motel on Brooks Street—Moose again alerted them to the presence of drugs, this time in a car Smith had recently been driving. That search turned up zilch.
Moose’s olfactory powers, according to Shaffer, are therefore not reliable. Without a reliable test by a drug-sniffing dog, the cops had only suspicion, and not probable cause, to search the bags, Shaffer argues.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Van de Wetering countered in court documents that Moose might have been sniffing contraband in the car that had been in the vehicle earlier, but was removed.