John A. Steakely

Attorney John Steakley is a 1996 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. He began his career as the Special Prosecutor for Drug Crimes for a multi-county, multi-agency drug task force in Tennessee, where he represented the State of Tennessee in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases in a 5-county judicial district.

Drug Dog's Nose is Good Enough

Drug Dog's Nose is Good Enough

One of the biggest abuses of power I regularly see is in the use of "drug dogs."  Police use a drug dog's "alert" to allow them to search places they normally can't legally search.  That's all well and good if the dog is reliable, but in this story we read about a drug dog that is right only 26% of the time!  That means that roughly three out of every four times the dog alerts, an innocent person is subjected to an illegal search.

But that's not legal is it?  Surely the courts wouldn't allow a dog that's wrong 75% of the time to be an excuse to ignore the Constitution?  Think again:

The nose of a drug-sniffing police dog is not so sharp, but it's good enough to support cocaine charges against Herbert Green.

. . .

Green's lawyer had argued that Bono's track record — drugs were found just 22 times out of 85 "alerts" by the dog — was so poor that police lacked probable cause to search Green's SUV.

. . . 

Bono "may not be a model of canine accuracy," Conrad wrote in an opinion filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

. . .

At a hearing earlier this month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Neese defended the performance of the German shepherd.

In some cases where nothing was found after an alert by Bono, police later determined that drugs had been in the vehicle earlier, likely leaving an odor the dog was trained to detect, Neese said.

Taking those cases into account, Conrad found that Bono's accuracy rate was at least 50 percent.

 

Note the issue about a dog detecting where drugs "had been in the vehicle earlier."  The Assistant US Attorney argues that as if it is a good thing.  It isn't.  It isn't a crime for someone to be in a car where drugs USED to be.  Dogs are supposed to detect crimes in progress, not the ghosts of crimes past.  If you've ever rented a rental car or sat in the back seat of a taxi, you're probably in a car where drugs USED to be.  That doesn't mean you should be detained and searched because some dog pretends to be able to smell into the past. 

If you have a case involving a drug dog search, don't give up.  There may be hope.  Give us a call. 

-John

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