K9 Units in Montgomery County & How They Impact Your Drug Case
Stakes rise for those in possession of drugs in The Woodlands, Texas and surrounding areas as Montgomery County Precinct Three (3) Constable’s Office adds two new K9 officers to their team. The two dogs, Rambo and Marlin, will be doing double duty as narcotics and patrol K9s. However, an alert in a search by Rambo or Marlin to drugs isn’t the smoking gun many think. There are both scientific and legal issues to consider when addressing K9 search cases. What are they and how do they impact your case?
K9 dogs are specially trained to alert to the odor of drugs in a vehicle. Animal behaviorists and trainers work with the dogs to cue on demand to the smell of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc. If a dog though, is man’s best friend how is he going to sell you out like that? Well, what is more loyal than a dog? Nothing really. They are loyal by nature. By nature though, they also eat, sleep, love on you and…smell around; sniffing your food, your butt, and the air. When the odor of a substance is present in the air they will react.
The science in disputing a K9 search partly falls in the manner in which the dog reacts. Conditioning of the dog during its training will determine how he will react. There are instinctive canine actions and actions facilitated by their handlers. The search of a vehicle or person by a K9 should be filmed. In review of that media, a skilled expert or criminal defense attorney can identify and challenge issues with the search in an attempt to suppress the evidence.
This does not necessarily mean that the handler is corrupt and intentionally influences the dog, these specially trained animals can pick up on the handler’s suspicions through their unconscious behaviors and cues. Gunnar Fulmer, a K9 officer with the Walla Walla Police Department, addresses this concept in an NPR article where he says, “When the dogs come out, about 99 percent of the time we get an alert. And it’s because we already know what’s in the car; we just need that confirmation to help us out with that.”
Other than the video of the search, criminal defense attorneys need to examine at the K9’s training records. Legal precedent (Florida v. Harris) states that if the state establishes a presumption of probable cause to search by demonstrating the dog’s satisfactory performance in a certification or training program, then the defendant must also have the opportunity to challenge evidence of the dog’s reliability.
A dog’s reliability too is challenged by the age of the odor. K9s cannot distinguish between the odor of drugs that are currently present and drugs that were present six months ago or years ago even. The scent can linger and because the dog is trained simply to alert to the scent – not the actual presence of drugs, they can be wrong. A dog’s false positive error rate is 41 percent – 4 out of every 10 drivers searched because of a dog’s alert turned out to be innocent.
Even with these alarming odds and conflicts, a positive alert by a K9 will start the chain of events that leads to a criminal prosecution as well as civil seizure of your property (A K9 costs $13,000.00 – $16, 000.00 a figure easily recouped with civil seizure proceedings).Don’t roll over and take it. If you have a drug charge, call me to discuss immediately.
Please keep in mind, this article is meant to be informative only. It is by no means legal advice provided by this firm – nor is it an exhaustive piece on each component involved in a drug case involving K9s.