Federal court finds drug dog unreliable —but upholds conviction

Posted on August 10th, 2015 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , .

In an utterly maddening decision, on July 28 the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago found that a police dog in a drug bust was unreliable in detecting drugs—yet let the conviction in the case stand anyway! Lex, the drug-sniffing pooch of the police force in Bloomington, Ill.,  must have been at the "bottom of his class" at dog-training school, the court stated. The defense presented evidence that Lex signals for drugs 93% of the time, often inaccurately. The court admitted Lex only had a "59.5% field-accuracy rate," which is "not much better than a coin flip." It also agreed that giving the critter treats for each alert—false or not—was a "terrible way to promote" accuracy. But the conviction of Larry Bentley Jr was upheld, on the grounds that contradictory answers to officers' questions and other evidence separately justified the search of his car in a traffic stop, which turned up cocaine.

The court also made reference to Florida v. Harris, a 2012 US Supreme Court decision which overturned a ruling by Florida's high court holding that the state did not  sufficiently prove a drug-sniffing dog's reliability to show probable cause in a methamphetamine bust. The Supreme Court rejected the lower court’s requirement that police officers show evidence of a dog's reliability in the field to prove probable cause. 

Since then, the Supreme Court has issued a ruling on a related matter more favorable to freedom. Back in April, SCOTUS ruled in Rodriguez vs. United States that it's unconstitutional for police to hold a motorist without reasonable suspicion while waiting for a drug-sniffing dog to arrive on the scene. The case concerned a Nebraska traffic stop that turned up a small amount of methamphetamine after a dog was brought in—despite the fact that the motorist did not consent to a search

If US v. Bentley goes before the Supreme Court, they'll have the opportunity to reverse their terrible decision in Florida v. Harris. Let's hope that happens. (ATTN, Aug. 8; Daily Kos, Aug. 7; AP, AP, July 29)


Who's new

  • Baba Israel
  • Karr Young
  • John Veit
  • YosephLeib
  • Peter Gorman