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Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs

The Florida Supreme Court is weighing a challenge to the reliability of a drug-detecting dog. CrimProf blog aptly notes:

I always tell my Criminal Procedure class that narcotics-sniffing dogs should be subjected to the same 4th Amemdment reliability standards as other "tipsters." A dog who has consistently falsely alerted in the past should be considered like an informant whose tips have repeatedly not panned out. The Supreme Court of Florida is considering this issue currently, as a defendant is arguing that the narcotics that a canine named "Razor" found on him should be suppressed on the ground that Razor has been so unreliable in the past that his "alert" with respect to the defendant did not give rise to probable cause for the search. Currently, no national standards exist to measure canine competence.

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  • Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 05:10:54 AM EST
    There's one other aspect of this which needs scrutiny: Just as it's a sad fact of life that some police carry throw-away weapons to cover themselves in wrongful death shootings by planting the weapon on their dead victims - as some have planted other evidence - who is to say that some dogs aren't deliberately 'jumped' by their handlers when there is no immediate alert from the animal to signal the presence of contraband? Or that Fido himself doesn't give wrong indictations; after all, he wants his treat...and so does his handler.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 07:08:20 AM EST
    What if Razor simply finally got his act together and got it right? Do we throw out all future cases because he screwed up in the past? Are we saying that rapists and murderers can reform themselves but police dogs can't?

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 07:36:28 AM EST
    JustPaul, I for one hate the idea that justice depends upon a dice roll. If the animal isn't completely accurate all the time, then that's what you are left with; a dice roll. Probabilities. The dog may be accurate today, but tomorrow? The next day? Even when I worked for Uncle, I never, ever uttered the words "Good enough for government work", as that implied an allowance for sloppiness on my part. When dealing with someone's future based upon something as potentially capricous as a dog's nose... I understandably have some resevations.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#4)
    by Patrick on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 08:01:49 AM EST
    I don't know about his past reliability, but he was right on this one eh?

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 08:08:20 AM EST
    Nemo, Selecting jury members by lottery using driver licensing and voter registration rolls is also justice by the "roll of the dice". Would it be better if every juror on a given trial was certified as being knowledgeable enough about the type of case being tried that they could follow all of the arguments as experts? I don't think so. I'm not saying Razor should necessarily be working as a police dog, but the fact is he was right this time, the guy did have drugs on him. I think this is a weak argument at best and shouled be rejected.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 08:19:02 AM EST
    Actually Razor was not "right this time". The dog had been trained to detect marijuana, heroin and cocaine - none of which were present in this case. The search revealed meth, hydrocodone and morphine. The dog gave a false positive indication.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 08:25:52 AM EST
    Terry, The fact that no marijuana or cocaine was found on the guy does not indicate that there were no traces or them on him. If the guy had been smoking a joint earlier, it's quite possible that the dog might have smelled that. This wouldn't be a false positive. Nevertheless, the guy is making a technical argument to attempt to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. I don't think he should win.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#8)
    by Patrick on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:04:15 AM EST
    Terry, I've worked with K-9 in California for the past 6 years. I've never seen a training company, private or government, that didn't train for all four major odors, meth, coke, heroin and marijuana. If you have some direct information that this dog was not similarly trained I'd like to hear it.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#9)
    by Patrick on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:08:07 AM EST
    Oh yeah, and false positive? How do you know the odor was not present? Perhaps the officer didn't find drugs that were well hidden. Perhaps drugs were recently there and the odor was still present. Are you aware of how scent travels in air currents, and how dogs are trained? Can you define "sourcing" as it relates to drug detection K-9? I didn't think so...But hey, good try.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#10)
    by Sailor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:38:45 AM EST
    Patrick, how about if the dog gave positives on everyone he searched? What are the stats on this dog? What should the standards be; How many false positives are allowed? How many false negatives? Are there any standards you would institute?

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#11)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:57:46 AM EST
    I am reminded earlier this year of a case in which a high school principal, intent upon framing certain students in order to punish them, deliberately hid cannabis in the school locker of one of his targets, and then had a drug dog brought in. See Educator admits he planted drugs, cops say The dog did not alert despite being walked past the locker repeatedly. The principal then later admitted he planted the cannabis in the kid's locker. The point being that the animal was anything but completely accurate. Either you have probable cause for a search...or you don't. And that probable cause must be more justifiable than the alerting of a dog...which may only mean the poor beastie is hungry and wants a treat, and the fastest way to get that is to give a false 'positive'. Many years ago, I worked with SAR dogs (air-scenters, mostly Labs, and greatly missed them when it came time for their retirement; they were real troopers and most kids weren't scared of the loveable lunks) and know some will try to work you as much as you do them. Given this, the possibility remains they may make a mistake.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#12)
    by Sailor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 03:19:58 PM EST
    Since the majority of the bills in circultion have traces of cocaine on them, most everybody would show a 'hit' under a sensitive enough scanner.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#13)
    by Patrick on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 04:03:48 PM EST
    Patrick, how about if the dog gave positives on everyone he searched? What are the stats on this dog? What should the standards be; How many false positives are allowed? How many false negatives? How about if my aunt had balls? What then? You can parse it all you want. The dog alerted and there were drugs found. Are there any standards you would institute? Yeah there are, I read in the article that the dog was CERTIFIED. Do you know what that means? To me it means the dog has been tested and found to meet the minimum requirements of the state. That's what it means in California anyway. Dog's don't alert on money and that study you're referring to has been debunked. Nemo, Exactly, but it doesn't mean the dog is faulty, it could be handler error, improper presentation, unfavorable air currents, or any number of factors. If you don't get the dog's nose into the scent trail, the dog will not alert. The point being, the dog is just a tool, it doesn't tell you where there are drugs, it merely indicates the presence of a particular odor. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#14)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 05:03:44 PM EST
    The Tallahassee Democrat article says,"An expert hired by the defense found that the certification tests administered by the canine college were too simplistic to make Razor reliable at detecting narcotics, and in fact, tested him only on his ability to recognize marijuana, heroin and cocaine - not the three drugs that deputies say they found in Matheson's car."

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#15)
    by Sailor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 05:53:33 PM EST
    Oh Patrick, I wasn't parsing, I was just asking what the standards are/should be. You have 'faith' in your fellow cops, (including dogs), I'm just asking what are your scientific grounds for doing so? Why would you be upset that someone just asked for data in support of your arguments? BTW, I have no idea what study to which you are referring, please provide links to the study and the refutation. As far as I can tell, your argument is that "I'm a certified cop, the dog is a certified cop, therefore we are never wrong. Even when we are." Have you EVER broken the law as a cop or witness a brother officer do so? See, in the reality world, we need data before we can form a hypothesis, and more data before we can provide a theory. What do you base your 'world view' on?

    Re: Fla. High Court Considers Drug Sniffs (none / 0) (#16)
    by Sailor on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 06:14:44 PM EST
    "Dog's don't alert on money". Dogs, just like any other 'contact' or 'sniffer' uh ... tool, alert on whatever the target is. If money, clothing, boxes, cargo trailers or any piece of matter in the universe within their range contains x PPB of their target, the detector shows a hit. OTOH, hey, a cop's hunch is good enough for me.