The Subjectivity of Dog Alerts in Drug Searches
Video Transcribed: Drug dog myths number five. Canine officers are highly trained and professional. I’m James Wirth, a lawyer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m doing a series of videos related to drug dogs in Oklahoma and specifically debunking certain myths, the myths being here that canine handler officers are highly trained and professional.
All right, so first off, in order to be a canine officer in Oklahoma, the officer handler and the dog would go through training, meet certain scores, and then be certified and be out on the streets. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are highly trained or professional. As we discussed in previous videos, when we’re talking about how a dog alerts, we’ve had officers testify that any change of behaviors alerts, we’ve had them testify to contradictory statements that moving towards a smell is alert, moving away from a smell is alert, jumping up is an alert, sitting down is an alert. Anything can be alert. It is not a strict science and is very subjective to the officer.
Additionally, we’ve seen some bad or at least poor behavior by canine officers in videos that receive. When somebody gets pulled over for a traffic stop and they want to search that vehicle, they have to have a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement, the exception being that it’s in an automobile or mobile and that they have probable cause. Well, how do you get probable cause? You do it through a drug dog alerting. And that’s where the drug dogs come in here and that’s where we have them walk around. And then we have the alleged alert with the change in behavior and all the contradictory things that they can argue as an alert to give them probable cause to get in. But in reviewing those videos to see what the conduct of the officers is, we’ve seen some interesting things.
I saw one case that we were dealing with where the officer opened the door to let the dog jump in. Now this is before they had alleged there was any kind of alert before the dog had finished the sweep, and the officer opened the door, the dog jumped in and started eating my client’s lunch. And then on the tape, my client asked him, “How’d the dog get in the vehicle? He’s eating my lunch.” And the response was he gave a long story on how the dog had trained itself to be able to open up the car door, and he asserted that the dog opened the door itself, when in the video you can see the officer opened it. But my client didn’t see that. But that’s the story that he’s getting from the officer that just allowed the dog to jump in his car and eat his lunch.
So it’s not always highly trained as far as having a distinct way to handle these, a distinct alert from the dog that is not subjective. No, these officers have decided to take their time that they want to search this vehicle. So they already have a suspicion that there’s something in the vehicle, they want to search it, and they need the dog in order to get the probable cause to do so. So they’re incentivized to want the dog to be alert.
And the dog that is trained to play this game with the officer is incentivized to alert because in the field after they’re done with training, anytime they alert, they get their treat, they get their toy, they get their reward, no matter if it’s a false positive or not because, in their training, there’s no such thing as a false positive. Either they alert and we find contraband or they alert and we don’t, which means that the contraband was in there and now it’s gone.
So there’s no such thing as a false positive for them. So the dog gets rewarded every time they alert. So the officers are inclined to want the dog to be alert. The dog is inclined to alert. And it ends up in this probable cause machine that gets them what they want and there’s no oversight over it because if they alert and they find narcotics, those are the only cases anybody sees. Those are the ones that need to hire defense attorneys, that go to court, that have oversight through judges. If the dog alerts and nothing is found, that person goes about their way, they don’t bother hiring an attorney, and they don’t have to go to court. So there’s no oversight over those. So what we have is a system that is not as scientific, not as sound, not as highly trained, and not as professional as the general public probably believes, which is why this myth is that canine officers are highly trained and professional.
If you’re dealing with this circumstance in a criminal case based on probable cause from a canine, there may be grounds to challenge that. You want to talk to a criminal defense attorney in Oklahoma about that privately and confidentially to find out the specifics of your circumstances and what can be done for you. To get that scheduled with someone in my office, you can go online to makelaweasy.com.