Two federal lawsuits are casting a harsh spotlight on an investigative tool long beloved by American law enforcement: a bloodhound's nose.
Lawsuits filed in Victoria, Texas, allege that Fort Bend County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Pikett and his team of hounds — James Bond, Quincy and Clue — failed controversial sniff tests known as "scent lineups."
Much like in traditional lineups, the dogs link human scents left at crime scenes to samples from suspects.
In each case, the suits allege, Pikett's dogs called attention to the wrong person. Both former suspects have been cleared. ...
Defense lawyers say the technique smacks of forensic voodoo and casts further suspicion on the broader use of scent dog evidence.
"It's a fraud on so many levels," says Jeffrey Weiner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Since 2004, two men in Florida and one in California have been freed after DNA evidence exonerated them. They had been convicted, in part, on the use of scent evidence, according to the Innocence Project, which uses DNA to exonerate the wrongly convicted. Pikett's dogs weren't involved in those cases.
National Police Bloodhound Association spokesman Dennis Guzlas says the association urges that scent lineups be used with caution.
What is the error rate for the dogs' identifications, since we know it's not zero? Do the scent lineups utilize "blind" administration or is Pikett inadvertently tipping the dogs off who to pick? And has there been anyone convicted based on evidence from Pikett's dogs alone? If so, there might be some valid innocence claims looming out there among the 2,000 cases Pikett claims his dogs have worked. Dog sniffs aren't exceptionally reliable in other venues so I'm not sure why they'd be taken as gospel here, particularly in the face of a DNA exoneration proving the dogs and the deputy were wrong. How many other, similar errors have they made that nobody caught?
See prior Grits coverage:MORE: Radley Balko focused recently on a similar example out of Florida where:
So far, three people have been cleared after collectively spending more than 50 years in prison, all of whom were convicted primarily due to the dog's alerts, despite other evidence exculpating them. Florida criminal justice activists say there may be as 60 more people wrongly convicted thanks to [Officer] Preston and his dog.