Police Dogs and Unvalidated Forensics


Two lawsuits being filed today in federal court allege that a Texas dog handler used unreliable methods to “justify police agencies’ suspicions” and falsely accuse two men of crimes they didn’t commit.

The cases come as dog scent evidence – and “scent lineups” in particular (where dogs examine a group of scents including a suspect’s) – are under fire in several states across the country. Testimony from dog handlers has played a role in at least three wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing to date. It is one of the forensic disciplines used in American courtrooms despite a lack of scientific validation to determine whether it is accurate.

The New York Times reports today on scent lineups and police dog evidence, pointing to a recent study on the issue by the Innocence Project of Texas, which estimates that 10 to 15 people are in prison solely on the testimony of one sheriff’s deputy – Keith Pikett – who is named in the federal lawsuits filed today.

Critics (of scent lineups) say that the possibilities of cross-contamination of scent are great, and that the procedures are rarely well controlled. Nonetheless, although some courts have rejected evidence from them, the technique has been used in many states, including Alaska, Florida, New York and Texas, said Lawrence J. Myers, an associate professor of animal behavior at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Read the full story here

. (New York Times, 11/4/09)

Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences released a groundbreaking report showing that many forensic disciplines – such as bite marks, fiber analysis and toolmarks – lack scientific rigor. The report calls on Congress to create a federal entity to stimulate research, set standards and enforce those standards.  

Visit the Just Science Coalition website

for more on the NAS report and progress implementing its critical reccomendtations.

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