Drug Dogs are not Reliable, as Court Cases and Studies Show

iStock_000009680929XSmall.jpgPolice often use drug-sniffing dogs to find the “probable cause” that allows police to search cars without a warrant. However the chances of a drug dog falsely alerting police, which often leads to searches that would otherwise be unconstitutional, seems shockingly high. In a study, published by UC Davis researchers in the journal of Animal Cognition, it was shown that trained drug dogs falsely alerted to the presence of drugs hundreds of times in areas where drugs were in fact not present and were not likely to have been present in the past.

This study suggests that drug dogs are not just responding to smells when alerting, but in a large part responding to unjustified beliefs held by drug dog handlers that drugs are present. Because drug dogs are extremely responsive to subtle cues given by their handlers, a drug dog is likely to alert that drugs are present regardless of whether it does or does not actually smell drugs.

Drug dog experts point to the fact that drug dogs and their handlers are at times poorly trained which explains this lack of accuracy in drug detection. A possible reason for the poor training is the almost total absence of national standards for drug dog training.

Further analysis conducted by the Chicago Tribune, using three years’ worth of drug dog data, discovered that drug dogs were wrong more often than they were right when alerting to police that vehicles contained drugs or drug paraphernalia. Also troubling, the Tribune study showed that if a driver was Hispanic, drug dogs were more likely to falsely alert on him or her. Anti-discrimination groups have asserted that drug dogs often alert as a response to the racial biases of the drug dog handlers which leads to disproportionately large amounts of minorities being searched for illegal drug use.

In Texas, police frequently use trained dogs to assist in finding evidence against those suspected of committing crimes. However, a 2010 decision from a Texas’s highest criminal court showed that Judges do not always think evidence obtained from the assistance of trained dogs is enough to find a criminal defendant guilty. In that case, the court overturned a criminal conviction because the primary method used by police to identify the criminal defendant, a trained dog identification, was seen as inadequate to find a person guilty.

Perhaps the Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas understands that trained dog assistance alone is not reliable enough to justify a criminal conviction. But despite drug dog inadequacy, drug dogs are still allowed to be used to search a person’s vehicle. Any evidence discovered from drug dog searches can be used as evidence at trial, unless the accused presents a convincing argument to not allow use of such evidence. Consulting an experienced attorney who specializes in drug dog cases is a recommended course of action when one is faced with an arrest involving a police dog.

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Gilbert Garcia has been Passionately Pursuing Justice for over 30 years and founded The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm in 2008. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is a boutique law firm, specializing in Criminal Defense. Gilbert represents adults and juveniles accused of a crime and who have with a felony, misdemeanor or record cleaning case. Conveniently located on the courthouse square to serve Montgomery and Walker Counties. Gilbert became Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1989. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is located at 220 N. Thompson St., Suite 202, Conroe, TX 77301.  www.ggglawfirm.com.

Drug Related Charges may include: Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Controlled Substance, Possession of Dangerous Drug, Manufacturing a Dangerous Drug/Controlled Substance, Delivery or Intent to Deliver Marijuana/Dangerous Drug/Controlled Substance, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and many other drug related charges.