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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Bloodhound Gang, Take 2: Supreme Court Of South Carolina Tweaks Test For Admissibility Of Bloodhound Tracking Evidence

Back in February, I wrote a post about how "courts generally admit evidence that bloodhounds tracked down a defendant if the prosecution can establish" certain elements. As support for this proposition, I cited to the opinion of the Court of Appeals of South Carolina in State v. White, 642 S.E.2d 607, 614 (S.C.App. 2007), in which the court found that evidence that bloodhounds tracked down a defendant is admissible if the prosecution can establish that the bloodhounds

(1)...are of pure blood, and of a stock characterized by acuteness of scent and power of discrimination; (2)...possess these qualities, and have been accustomed and trained to pursue the human track; (3)...have been found by experience reliable in such pursuit; [and] (4)...were put on the trail of the guilty party, which was pursued and followed under such circumstances and in such way as to afford substantial assurance, or permit a reasonable inference, of identification.

The Court of Appeals of South Carolina in White found the prosecution established these four elements and thus affirmed the defendant's conviction, prompting his appeal to the Supreme Court of South Carolina which affirmed but did so only after tweaking the above test in State v. White, 2009 WL 1108881 (S.C. 2009).

In White, Gary White and Anthony Morris allegedly robbed a convenience store, and its manager, Gwen Anthony, in Columbia South Carolina (with Roy Wiggins driving the getaway car). As White and Morris were exiting the convenience store, Officer Rouppasong of the Columbia Police Department coincedentally pulled into the store parking lot on a routine break.

Upon his arrival on the scene, Officer Rouppasong saw two people: Anthony, waving and flagging him down and another person running away from the store. Rouppasong described the man he saw running as a black male, wearing a white t-shirt and dark colored pants, holding or carrying something in one of his hands. Rouppasong remained in his vehicle and followed White. As he followed him around the corner of the store, Rouppasong saw a car parked on the street. Rouppasong saw a black male (later identified as White) exit the car on the passenger side and flee. Rouppasong did not give chase; instead, he stayed with the vehicle and Wiggins. Officer Gunter, with the K9 unit, was called to the scene to search for the suspect.

Officer Gunter arrived on the scene approximately thirty minutes after the robbery. Once there, Rouppasong relayed the necessary information that allowed Gunter to know where to initiate the track. Gunter and his tracking dog, Aurie, began tracking and soon found White nearby sleeping next to some bushes, gun in hand. Rouppasong testified that the man he saw lying by the bushes, asleep, was the same man he saw exiting the store and fleeing the crime scene. There were two other in-court eyewitness identifications of White. Wiggins testified that White left his car with a gun, returned to his car a short time later, and then fled when police arrived. The second identification came from Morris.

Based upon these identifications and evidence indicating that Aurie tracked down White, White was convicted of armed robbery, leading to his aforementioned unsuccessful appeal to the Court of Appeals of South Carolina. White then appealed to the Supreme Court of South Carolina, which agreed with the court below, but only after applying a six element test rather than a four element test. Specifically, according to the South Carolina Supremes, a sufficient foundation for the admission of dogtracking evidence is established if 

(1) the evidence shows the dog handler satisfies the qualifications of an expert under Rule 702; (2) the evidence shows the dog is of a breed characterized by an acute power of scent; (3) the dog has been trained to follow a trail by scent; (4) by experience the dog is found to be reliable; (5) the dog was placed on the trail where the suspect was known to have been within a reasonable time; and (6) the trail was not otherwise contaminated.

The court found that these six elements were satisfied and thus affirmed.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/05/drug-sniffing-dogs-schttpwwwpoliceonecomcsi-forensicsarticles1817417-s-c-court-offers-guidance-on-admitting-police-do.html

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