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Sniffing out probable cause: a problematic canine tale

| May 18, 2021 | Drug Charges

Some people might be a bit amused by the following story. We suspect, though, that most Colorado readers of this blog will not find much humor in it. In fact, they might reasonably regard the details as both shocking and abhorrent.

And, indeed, their inclination the next time they see a police officer with a dog on leash could be to run the opposite direction as fast as they can.

The following tale is about alertness, which is a character trait most people prize in dogs.

Karma has it. So too do Lex, Sella and Bono. Those dogs are all prominently featured in a recent national article spotlighting the sniffing prowess commanded by trained police drugs.

In fact, Karma’s reported proficiency in alerting on unlawful substances is almost beyond belief.

To wit: The above-cited Reason piece notes from public records relevant to a recent two-year period that Karma “gave an ‘alert’ indicating the presence of drugs 100 percent of the time during roadside sniffs outside vehicles.”

The other canines mentioned above were similarly effective in, well, not being effective.

And their clueless sniffs raise this troubling question: How many innocent people have been arrested, charged and convicted on criminal offenses owing to detentions that were never justified in the first place?

This is not a story about bad dogs. Rather, it is unquestionably a tale chronicling bad police training and outcomes predicated on dogs’ innate loyalty and efforts to please.

And it underscores this: Dogs that quickly and uniformly alert on innocent person “create automatic probable cause for searches and seizures, undercutting constitutional guarantees of due process.”

As Reason notes, prosecutors and courts are often quick to “treat certified narcotics dogs as infallible.”

Clearly, that’s not routinely the case. And when it’s not, the consequences for detained citizens can be starkly dire.


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