Court says drug-sniffing dog wrong almost half the time

In a case that may interest Michigan readers, a federal court has ruled that a police dog's drug-sniffing skills are less than impressive. The decision, which was handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, could potentially influence future drug cases involving K-9 searches.

The case before the court dealt with a St. Louis man who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after Illinois police discovered 20 kilograms of cocaine in his car. The defendant appealed his sentence on the grounds that the search was triggered by a police dog known as Lex, who allegedly has a questionable record of accuracy when sniffing out drugs. The court agreed that Lex's accuracy "is not much better than a coin flip."

Records show that Lex, a 10-year-old Belgian Malinois, signals the presence of drugs more than 90 percent of the time, and studies suggest he may be wrong more than two out of five times. The defendant argued that Lex's false-positive rate rendered the search on his vehicle illegal. However, the court said his contradictory statements during police questioning also justified a search of his vehicle.

The court indicated it may have tossed out the defendant's conviction had the search been based purely on Lex's nose. As it is, some said the ruling could lead to other drug-sniffing dogs being pulled from service over fears their records could be questioned in court.

A Michigan resident facing drug charges may benefit by retaining a criminal defense attorney. Legal counsel could carefully review police conduct during search and seizure for any signs a defendant's rights were violated, which could lead to the dismissal of some or all of the charges.

Source: US News, " US court in Chicago says drug-sniffing dog fails the smell test; wrong nearly half the time," Michael Tarm, July 29, 2015