A Raleigh Criminal Lawyer’s Challenge: Is Fido’s Sniff Performance Up To Snuff?

There’s no guarantee that the best drug-detection dog on the force won’t generate a false positive. However, once trained and certified, their performance in the field cannot be questioned by defense attorneys at trial.

This became the focus of a Supreme Court ruling in February, where a unanimous court overturned the decision of the Florida Supreme Court. In a 14-page statement published, Justice Elena Kagan stated that law enforcement officials did not need to provide performance statistics for the drug sniffing dogs to justify their use to determine probable cause for a warantless search.


While many of these dogs have proven themselves to be effective at drug and bomb detection, opponents question just how reliable the dogs really are in the field and how their handlers might influence their abilities. With this decision it seems the courts have determined that if the dogs performed well during training and certification, that’s good enough and there’s no use challenging their capabilities.

Controlled Environment

In 2010, researchers at the University of California, Davis conducted a study on 18 police dogs. The dogs’ mission: sniff for drugs and bombs inside a room. Unknown to the dogs, however, the room was drug and bomb-free. Of the 144 attempts, 85 percent resulted in errors on the part of the dogs. That’s right… an 85% error rate.

Probable Cause

In these cases a criminal lawyer will argue that the police did not have “probable cause” to conduct a warrantless search violating an individual’s rights under the Fourth Amendment. To put it simply, an officer must have legal reason to believe that a person may be committing a crime.

Police K9 drug detection units are used to provide such “probable cause.” If a dog responds or “cues” on a suspect’s person or property, the officer is justified to search without a warrant. The suspect can protest, but it is not likely to be effective since most states have given this power to law enforcement.

While the credibility of the dogs that have undergone training is less likely to be challenged, fortunately the training itself can still be put into question, as well as other factors of the case. With the help of an aggressive Raleigh criminal defense attorney, it might be possible to create a significant doubt that the training didn’t meet the state’s standards which might invalidate a warrantless search. The attorneys at Kurtz & Blum understand the intricacies of criminal law. We are always ready to diligently protect the rights of our clients.

Give us a call to discuss your case, free of charge at 919-832-7700.

For more information about drug-detection dogs and your rights against unreasonable search and seizure see this post, Drug Dogs Bark as Bad as Bite

(Article image and excerpt from “Supreme Court: Police Dog Ability Doesn’t Need To Be Extensively Tested, ‘Sniff Is Up To Snuff,’” Associated Press [c/o The Huffington Post], February 19, 2013)