Drug Sniffing Dogs and Poop and Your Rights.

A couple weeks back there was an awesome article floating around about a girl who won a science fair by doing a project on drug sniffing dogs.  It wasn’t awesome because she won.  Nor was it awesome because she got to use the cool dogs.  It was awesome because her daddy, a cop, helped her by using real cocaine.

I think it’s awesome that he can put over $1,000 worth of cocaine to work for a school project, don’t you? I mean, he has a badge and a gun, he can do whatever he wants.  Isn’t that the way it should be?  Just check an ounce of coke out of the evidence locker, and off to conduct grade school science projects we go.  I don’t see how playing fast-and-loose with the evidence locker could hurt, do you?  Gotta help daughter win this science project, after all.

If a loving father can’t take illegal narcotics to the school, well, then, how is he supposed to show his love, dammit.

But, I’ve got to call shenanigans on this whole project- she had an unfair advantage.  I’m not talking about her being able to use the extremely expensive police dog, or illicit narcotics that other 4th graders didn’t have access to.  I’m talking about the judges of this deal- I’m betting they don’t have any clue what they were doing.

See, I’m guessing those judges are just regular people.  People like you. People like me.  Regular people tend to operate under the assumption that drug sniffing dogs are awesome, because they are awesomely accurate.

I thought that for a long time.  Then a couple things happened.  First, I got this job and had to start taking a critical look at canine searches.  Then, I brought home “Bacon” who is the world’s greatest Vizsla.

Puppy ownership is a bit of an eye opener.  Bacon is bred to hunt and has an awesome nose- she’s only six months old and she can find a bird-scented toy buried in a pile of laundry two rooms away.  It’s impressive to watch.  On the other hand, she also loves to roll in poop and drink from the toilet.  Not so impressive.

You know what she really loves to do?  She loves to do whatever it is that she thinks I want her to do (if she thinks I have treats, anyway).  She’d run through a wall if she thought I’d give her a treat afterwards.

I’ve noticed that, sometimes, when I hide her bird scented toy she’s paying as much attention to me as she is trying to “find the birdie.”  She knows I know where it is.  She also knows that I might give her a clue- by where I’m standing or where I’m looking.  I can take a step or look a certain direction to help her if she gets frustrated. Of course, I can also send her in the wrong direction with that step or look if I’m trying to be mean.  She goes where she thinks I want her to go.

Thankfully drug dogs are different, right?  They are highly trained animals with keen senses and accurate noses.  They don’t roll in poop or drink out of toilets. They look for stuff on their own, and don’t take inaccurate cues from their handlers.  They go where the drugs are, not where they think their handlers think drugs might be.  They never indicate on stuff without being right.

I guess the one exception might be the bomb sniffing dogs that the Law Dude posted to facebook:

But those have to be the only exceptions.  Clearly. I mean if they weren’t, this border patrol agent couldn’t possibly testify under oath that the dog is never really wrong:

“There is no such thing as a false alert.”

Wait, wait, wait.  What about that study that found that the dogs can be wrong up to 80% of the time?  Thankfully those people are from Australia.  Since their toilets flush backwards, their dogs are probably backwards too.  So, if their dogs are wrong 4 out of 5 times, that means ours are correct at least 4 out of 5, right?  Those people probably don’t even let their 10 year old daughters use cocaine in science projects.  Of course their dogs are wrong.

But, our dogs are always right.  That’s what I used to think. That’s what the border patrol agent testified to. More importantly, I’m guessing that’s what the judges at the science fair for the 10 year old girl thought.  Of course you’re going to win when everybody just assumes the accuracy of your project.

Maybe I shouldn’t really care.  Maybe it’s not a big deal if the cops want to pull you over for speeding but make you wait for a half hour while they run the dog around your car.  I’m sure all your neighbors driving by and seeing you out there are thinking, “It’s ok, the dog might be wrong” and not, “Wow, I didn’t know she was a drug dealer!”

The Supreme Court is about to decide two big cases regarding searches with dogs. Their past dog search decisions haven’t exactly embraced the idea that these dogs may “false indicate” based on a handler’s cue, and that innocent people end up being embarrassed when the police search their car for no reason.    Given that the fourth amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches” it’s hard to believe our founders intended to give the cops the right to toss through the underwear in your luggage because some toilet-drinking hound started scratching at your car.

I’m not saying that dogs, when properly trained and handled, aren’t incredibly accurate or useful tools.  Anybody who has ever watched a good gun dog in the field knows this.  What I am saying is that there’s a history in this country (and Australia) of  canines not being used correctly when it comes to searches and seizures.

Bacon the Vizsla likes to chase after a squeaky piggy toy, eat paper towels, roll around in smelly stuff, and do whatever she can to get treats.  So do those trained dogs.  Perhaps your Supreme Court shouldn’t assume they’re any more accurate than anything else that rolls in poop.

Matt Haiduk is a Criminal Defense Lawyer and a dog dad with offices in Kane County and McHenry County, Illinois.  Feel free to add him on Google+.

Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is an uncooperative Criminal Defense Lawyer with offices in Kane County and McHenry County, Illinois. When he's not picking on people on the internet, he's playing frisbee with his dog or watching his girlfriend race bikes. Feel free to mock him on twitter or add him on Google+.

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