April 27th, 2011
Radley Balko’s February 2011 article highlighting studies at the University of California-Davis and University of North Carolina details how misconceptions about dog behavior may lead to false positives in criminal cases. Balko argues that while dogs’ sense of smell remains very powerful, over the course of domestication they have developed other powerful traits, namely the desire to please their owners. For example, if a dog handler has a suspicion that a suitcase contains drugs, the dog may be able to pick up on that bias and signal a false positive in order to please its owner. Balko cites University of North Carolina law professor Richard Meyers’ 2006 statistical analysis that demonstrated that police dogs “were not reliable enough to produce probable cause for a search, let alone serve as the cornerstone of a conviction.” Balko acknowledges the potential for dogs to play a key role in bomb sniffing and survivor detection but cautions against ignoring the dogs’ bias towards pleasing their owners.
Read the story of NEIP exoneree Jimmy Hebshie wrongfully convicted of arson based on police use of a sniffer dog.