Canine evidence is an important subject because law enforcement agencies are increasingly using working dogs in wildlife law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies use dogs to detect substances or track people. Law enforcement agencies use dogs in a variety of ways including detection of suspects and substances and apprehension of offenders. Due to the wide use of dogs for law enforcement functions, the question of admissibility of canine evidence often arises. Many countries do not have specific legislation on how canine evidence can be admissible. However, courts in many countries recognize that a dog has the ability to discriminate scent.
Relevance of Evidence Recovered by Dogs
Working dogs are effective in:
Canine evidence is relevant and admissible in court if it makes the existence of any fact more probable or less probable than it would be without that evidence. Canine evidence can therefore be relevant if it:
- Identifies an exhibit;
- Establishes a relationship between suspects;
- Demonstrates a relationship between a suspect and a crime scene;
- Establishes a relationship between a suspect and an exhibit;
- Establishes a relationship between a crime scene and an exhibit
- Identifies an instrument used to commit the crime;
- Establishes a relationship between a suspect and an instrument used to commit the crime.
Reliability of the Evidence Recovered by Canines
The reliability of canine evidence is a question which many judicial officers grapple with. The dog’s reliability in doing its works relies on the skill and proficiency of the handler. Therefore, the reliability of canine evidence is a function of the handler’s interpretation of the dog’s reaction. This is often subjective and as a result, there is conflict of opinion on this question.
The Training and Antecedents of the Dog
To demonstrate the reliability of canine evidence, the person relying on it should lay a proper foundation. This can be done by proving that the dog and the handler are properly trained and qualified. You also need to demonstrate that the circumstances regarding the use of the dog are relevant to the case. The use of the dog should also not contravene any legal provision or the constitutional rights of the defendant. Further, many courts require sufficient corroborating evidence.
To demonstrate the training and antecedents of the dog, you should maintain a record of the dog’s history including its training, health and performance. The record should state and describe each training session and any certification that the dog may have. In the record, you should also document every effort of the dog to detect an object or substance which you have trained it to detect and its success in doing so. Also include the error rate of the dog in the records.
Courts would also like to know the breed of the dog in order to determine whether they can consider it as having an acute sense of smell. Courts consider the dog’s training and certification to be prima facie evidence that the dog is reliable. The burden is then shifted to the person objecting to the admissibility of the canine evidence to prove that the dog is not reliable.
Qualifications of the Handler
The handler’s reliability comes into question because of the subjectivity of the handler’s manipulation of the dog and interpretation of the dog’s acts. The handler must therefore produce adequate records of his training, certification and experience which the court will evaluate. Further, the court will restrict the handler’s courtroom testimony to the rules of evidence. The handler must be a competent witness in order for his evidence to be allowed in court.
Courts also look at the objectivity of the search that led to the recovery of the exhibit or identity of a defendant. When the court finds canine evidence to be reliable and admits the evidence, it will give the defendant an opportunity to inquire into the training and antecedents of the dog. It will also allow the defendant to inquire into all circumstances and details of the search.
Admissibility of Evidence Recovered by Canines
In summary, the following principles govern the admissibility of canine evidence –
- It must be relevant.
- It must be reliable.
- The court must treat the evidence with utmost caution and the prosecution should give it the fullest explanation.
- The human handler must not try to explore the inner workings of the dog’s mind.
- The human handler must be qualified by training and experience to handle the dog and interpret its actions.
- The prosecution must not rely solely on anecdotes regarding the dog’s capabilities.
- Canine evidence must be corroborated.