Admissibility of Canine Evidence in Wildlife Crime Cases

Canine Evidence

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 used for:

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;
  • It establishes a relationship between suspects;
  • It establishes a relationship between a suspect and a crime scene;
  • It establishes a relationship between a suspect and an exhibit;
  • It establishes a relationship between a crime scene and an exhibit
  • It identifies an instrument used to commit the crime;
  • It establishes a relationship between a suspect and an instrument used to commit the crime.
Reliability of the Evidence Recovered by Canines

Canine Evidence

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. The record should also document every effort of the dog to detect an object or substance which it has been trained to detect and its success in doing so. The error rate of the dog should be included in the records.

Courts would also like to know the breed of the dog in order to determine whether it is considered 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

Canine Evidence

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 will be evaluated before the court. Further, the handler’s courtroom testimony will be restricted to the rules of evidence. Firstly, 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 canine evidence is found to be reliable and therefor admitted, the defendant should be given an opportunity to inquire into the training and antecedents of the dog and 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.
  • It must be treated with the utmost caution by the court and given the fullest explanation by the prosecution.
  • 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.

Author: DidiWamukoya

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