Bloodhound law

March 6, 2014

I’m sure this issue has come up in other cases, but it was new to me. From the Louisiana Supreme Court decision in State v. Oliphant (La. Feb. 21, 2014) (paragraph breaks added):

While interrogating defendant [who was accused of an armed robbery at a Tobacco Warehouse store], Spillman called for a set of tracking dogs to assist in the investigation. He asked for one of defendant’s socks and defendant complied with the request. Spillman took the sock to the Tobacco Warehouse where he met Officer Roy Gallien, one of the dog handlers….

Gallien testified that he let the two dogs sniff the sock Officer Spillman obtained from defendant at approximately 7:15 p.m. on the day of the robbery. The dogs then began to track from the store. The dogs, working separately, tracked similar routes to the route described by [witness] Riley Stanfield. [Based partly on this tracking evidence, defendant was convicted of an armed robbery.] …

In the present case, the state failed to lay the proper foundation for admission.

First, the state concedes the dogs used in the instant case are not pure breed bloodhounds. Officer Gallien testified that be believed their mother was a dog living at Angola and that dog mated with dogs living at other correctional institutions around the state. The state did not introduce any documentation concerning the dogs’ lineage.

Moreover, the state presented little information concerning the training of the dogs. Gallien testified the dogs are not certified in any capacity, “but they are very good in my book.” He explained that trustees at the detention center train the dogs and that the dogs “are real good with their noses.”

As to their history of reliability, Gallien stated that one of the dogs recently located a missing person who had fallen off a dock and drowned. He further stated the dogs have “been used a good bit” to find people in the area.

On cross-examination, Gallien admitted that he could not remember which dogs were used for different missions; therefore, he could not be more specific about the experience of the dogs used in the instant case. He further admitted that there are no records as to the dogs’ experience or rate of success. Accordingly, Gallien’s anecdotal evidence of the dogs’ experience cannot be verified.

It is undisputed that the dogs began their search where the perpetrator was known to have been; however, they began their search five-and-one-half hours after the robbery, thus giving any scent time to dissipate. Given the complete lack of verifiable information relating the dogs training, experience, or abilities, the court erred by admitting the evidence.

From “quackspertise” to barkspertise.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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