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Fort Lauderdale Federal Crime Attorney > Blog > Federal Crime > Limitations on Drug Dog Evidence in Court

Limitations on Drug Dog Evidence in Court


Maybe you’ve seen it on TV or heard stories about people being arrested on drug charges, all because a drug dog alerted their person or vehicle. Maybe it was in an airport. Maybe a routine traffic stop. But what exactly can police use a drug dog for, and how accurate are drug dogs at detecting narcotics? Are there ways to fight charges when based on a drug sniffing dog? Federal law enforcement typically use dogs for a number of reasons, and when working with a federal drug crimes lawyer, it can be helpful to understand the limits of this type of evidence.

Drug Dog Efficacy 

Research published in Forensic Science International suggests that drug dogs are relatively reliable but not perfect. The research shows that out of 1,219 tests being conducted, drug dogs were able to identify drug test samples 87.7% of the time. However, 5.3% of the identifications were false. More interestingly, perhaps, is the fact that in 7.0% of the tests, the drug dogs were not able to identify drugs within 10 minutes. What does this mean? Well, it means that there’s about a 12-13% failure rate. And when a person’s entire life and future hang in the balance, that’s a pretty big error rate.

Admitting Evidence of Drug Dog Alerts in Court 

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter how good a dog is at detecting drugs. It only matters what a judge will allow a jury to hear. The Supreme Court has routinely held that it is not an unlawful search for a drug dog to do a free air sniff of a vehicle in public. The same is true of luggage in an airport. These are situations where the individual and the item or vessel searched are in public places. However, things change a bit if the dog is sniffing in a private premises. This has been held to be a search requiring a warrant.

  • Proving the Dog’s Training. The government cannot simply let a police officer talk about what happened. They must first prove the training and qualifications of the dog. This isn’t a tall task, but it’s one that some prosecutors try to smooth over or brush by. In smaller police departments around the country, police dogs may not be up-to-date on training, they may have failed initial qualification standards, or worse yet, they may lack the actual certification to be used in the field yet. With tight budgets and a race to get crime under control, some departments will take short cuts.
  • Reasonable suspicion of crime. It has been held unconstitutional to use drug dogs to delay or extend a routine traffic stop in order to have a drug dog perform a sniff, unless there is a reasonable suspicion of crime.

If you or a loved one have been arrested, in part due to a drug dog’s alert, you need a Fort Lauderdale federal crimes attorney who has the experience and in-depth knowledge of drug crimes. Contact Bruce L. Udolf, P.A. today, and get experienced representation today.



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