EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

If You Catch My Drift: Innocence Project Of Texas Publishes: Dog Scent Lineups A Junk Science Injustice

I have written a couple of previous posts (here and here) about the tests that courts have used to determine whether evidence of tracking by a dog is admissible. Now, The Innocence Project of Texas has weighed in on a somewhat related issue by publishing a special report, Dog Scent Lineups A Junk Science Injustice.
The report was written by Jeff Blackburn, the Chief Counsel of The Innocence Project of Texas, and it covers the following topics:
1. What is "Junk Science"?
2. Junk Science in Texas
3. Dog Scent EVidence
4. Dog Scent Evidence - The Science
5. Dog Science Evidence - The Junk
6. The Strange and Awful Career of Deputy Keith Pikett
7. What Has to Be Done

Here are some of the main arguments main in each section:

In What is "Junk Science"?, Blackburn asserts that 

In case after case, prosecutors have used phony "experts" with little or no training or education, false results from shoddy labs and dubious '"theories" with no basis in fact to get convictions. Taken together, these abusive practices have come to be known as the use of "junk science." The use of this "evidence" is not limited to the courtrooms; law enforcement agencies have come more and more to rely on it in making arrests and getting indictments.

In Junk Science, Texas Style, Blackburn contends that Texas prosecutors have used a variety of "junk science" without much circumspection, including bogus arson expert evidence, false autopsies, and inaccurate hair and fiber evidence. In Dog Scent Evidence and "Scent Lineups," Blackburn identifies the subject of the report: "cases in which dog handlers claim that their dogs have distinguished between different odors among people, identified one, and matched to evidence from a crime scene."  
In The Science of Scent Lineups, Blackburn notes that

If there is a developing consensus about the use of scent lineups, it comes down to this:

1. Scientific methods have to be used;

2. Rules based upon those methods have to be precisely followed;

3. Even if proper methods and rules are used the scent lineup has very limited value as "scientific evidence" and cannot be solely relied upon.

In The Junk of Scent Lineups, notes that "[a]t least two other jurisdictions besides Texas have routinely relied on unscientific scent lineups": Florida and Cuba, both with undesirable results. In The Strange and Awful Career of Keith Pikett, Blackburn notes that the leading "expert" in Texas on scent lineups is Keith Pikett, who "has indicated that it is not important for him to receive any formal training, that he does not need to follow any rules or protocols established by scientists in the field, and that he rejects the importance of scientific studies concerning scent lineups."  

In Some Conclusions About Scent Evidence, Blackburn concludes that scent lineups "are not founded on a reliable scientific methodology and that

[t]he science of scent lineups in Texas has no rules, procedures, or performance standards. It is being practiced by "experts without expertise according to no rules except their own.

Finally, in What Has to Be Done, Blackburn calls on the government to do seven things, including calling on all police agencies to stop using scent lineups immediately and calling on the Forensic Science Commission of the State of Texas to conduct a full investigation into the use of scent lineups and to prohibit them from being used.


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