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Federal court questions validity of drug dog search

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit recently questioned the accuracy of a drug-sniffing dog's finding. This case could mean that courts in California and other states will begin questioning the validity of searches based solely on drug dog hits.

The case before the court involved an appeal of a 20-year sentence involving a drug possession conviction for 20 grams of cocaine. The court upheld the conviction based on facts other than the dog's hit that occurred during the traffic stop, including the defendant's contradictory statements. Even though the court ruled that the search was legal, the opinion questions how much police should rely on drug dog hits alone as a basis for conducting a search. The court commented that the dog's overall accuracy rate is no better than a coin flip.

The dog's trainer has stated that he believes that the opinion is unfair. He also states that the case discourages trainers from giving dogs any rewards after a hit. Others believe that the opinion could encourage more dogs to be taken out of service to prevent challenges based on mistakes in their records. A search based on a drug dog hit like this one can lead to a serious criminal charge. Without the drug dog hit, a lawful search requires that police have reasonable suspicion that a person committed a traffic violation or a crime. Judges in this case were concerned thatalmost anyone could be searched based on an inaccurate drug dog hit.

A person who was searched and charged with a crime based on a drug dog hit may wish to consult a criminal defense attorney about challenging the search based on the drug dog's accuracy. Legal counsel may be able to argue that the search was unlawful and the case should be dismissed.

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