Are drug-sniffing dogs accurate?

On Behalf of | Feb 25, 2019 | Firm News

A case pending before the Supreme Court is raising questions about drug-sniffing dogs and search. The case in question is Edstrom v. Minnesota. According to The Washington Post, the case is trying to address whether a dog sniffing outside an apartment door in a communal hallway constitutes a lawful search.

Dog sniffed door and alerted police to drugs

Cortney John Edstrom was suspected of dealing meth out of his Brooklyn Park, Minnesota apartment. MPR states the police brought a dog to the apartment building, and the dog alerted there were drugs in the apartment. After the dog alerted them, the officers got a search warrant and discovered a weapon and drugs in Edstrom’s apartment.

Using a drug-sniffing dog in an apartment hallway may be unlawful

However, Edstrom questioned whether this search was lawful under the Fourth Amendment. Though the Supreme Court has yet to review the case, it raises more questions than just the legality of a drug-sniffing dog in an apartment hallway. It also raises the question of the accuracy of these dogs.

Research suggests drug-dogs are right about half the time

It turns out the answer seems to be, not very. The Washington Post states that multiple studies have found that drug-dogs have high error rates. Some analyses suggest the dogs are correct around 50 percent of the time. This places their accuracy as about the same as a coin toss.

Dogs may be cued to alert by police

Some suggest errors are caused by police dogs being trained to alert their handlers, even when no drugs are present. Dog trainers reviewing videos of roadside searches found indicators that drug-sniffing dogs were being cued by their handlers to alert.

Drug-dogs may also alert to please handlers

But even if handlers are not training their dogs to alert, the dogs may still be falsely alerting because they want to please their handlers. Dogs are known to read people’s body language, and if their handler suspects there are drugs, the dogs may alert based on these signals.

After dogs are certified as drug-detection dogs, there is basically no oversight for testing the dog’s accuracy. Rather the mere fact the animals were certified is meant to establish their reliability. If a dog is not particularly good at sniffing for drugs, there are no checks and balances in place to stop the police from continuing to use the dog.

Errors in a search can call charges into question

If you are facing drug charges, an experienced Florida attorney may be able to question the legitimacy of your search. Even if the search did not involve a drug-sniffing dog, the police may have made other errors that violated your Fourth Amendment rights. An attorney can examine the evidence and may be able to find holes in the prosecution’s case against you.

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