Drug-Sniffing Dogs Are Usually Wrong

Police like to use dogs trained to detect the presence of drugs. With a positive indication of the presence of drugs by a drug-sniffing dog, police officers have probable cause to search a stopped vehicle. What state-compiled data in Illinois recently showed, though, is that drug-sniffing dogs are usually wrong in their conclusions about whether drugs or paraphernalia are in vehicles.

The analysis by the Chicago Tribune could have wider implications across the country. Atlanta criminal defense attorneys have many clients who have been searched based on a drug-sniffing dog’s indication of the presence of drugs.

The Chicago Tribune looked at data covering three years in Chicago suburbs. They found that only 44% of drug alerts by dogs led to actual discovery of drugs or paraphernalia. For Hispanic drivers, the dogs were only correct 27% of the time.

The dogs are trained to sit or dig to indicate the presence of drugs. Police say that the reason for the false indications is that the scent of drugs can remain in a vehicle long after the drugs have been consumed or transported out of the vehicle. The dogs’ noses are so sensitive that they detect drugs that are already gone, the police claim.

However, even experts who favor the use of drug-sniffing dogs admit that many dogs and many of the officers handling them are not properly trained.

Inadequately trained dogs or handlers can give false alerts. For example, leading a dog around a car too many times or taking too long evaluating a vehicle for drugs can cause a dog to give an alert for drugs when they are not present.

The end result is that many dogs give false alerts for the presence of drugs, leading to unjustified searches.

Source: Chicago Tribune “Drug-sniffing dogs in traffic stops often wrong” 1/6/2011