Is This The Basis of Getting An Arrest Thrown Out?

Drug-sniffing dogs are wrong a lot of the time, according to a recent article/investigation in the Tribune. This is a scary thought, although not completely surprising. According to information from some suburban Chicago police departments, their dogs were wrong 44% of the time, meaning they signaled that they smelled drugs but nothing was found after a search of the vehicle.

These dogs can detect the faintest residue, so maybe I shouldn't say they were wrong just because nothing was found. They may have smelled something. But regardless, nothing illegal was found, so the searches - which can be long and invasive - were unnecessary.

Some blame the low success rate on lack of training. Either the dogs aren't trained properly or their handlers don't know how to use them. For example, walking the dog around the car too many times can lead to a false positive. Shouldn't there be laws about training hours or continuing education on how to use the dogs? Apparently lawmakers have tried.

The numbers from the suburban departments show that in the case of Hispanic drivers, these searches were successful only 27% of the time. Does this show bias? Is it racial profiling?

And last but not least, there is the possibility that police are intentionally misusing the dogs, somehow prompting them to alert to a car when it's convenient. If they don't have probable cause to search a car, they can create it. When a drug-sniffing dog smells what they've been trained to find - such as drugs - they give a certain sign to their handler, such as sitting down. This easily gives the police what they need to conduct a search. It makes you wonder how often they fake it. 

Overall it's not a slam dunk defense that a search was not based on probable cause, but the guess here is that it's only a matter of time before a criminal defendant beats a charge by basically saying that a sniffer dog's guess as to who has drugs is not much better than anyone else.



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