ARTICLE: Does the Cold Nose Know? The Unscientific Myth of the Dog Scent Lineup Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 1990 University of California, Hastings College of Law
Hastings Law Journal

ARTICLE: Does the Cold Nose Know? The Unscientific Myth of the Dog Scent Lineup


42 Hastings L.J. 17




Is the "finger of God" really behind a dog's identification of a criminal suspect? A deep human faith in the purity and accuracy of the dog has long said so. This faith in the "inerrant inspiration" of the dog's nose 2 has led to the dog's rapidly expanding use in locating avalanche victims, finding lost children, detecting bombs, locating drugs, and tracking escapees. 3 But the most controversial use of the canine olfactory sense remains the dog scent lineup.

In a "dog scent lineup" a dog sniffs an object imbued with a scent known to be from a wrongdoer and then sniffs a line of either objects or people. 4 If the dog "alerts" -- that is, barks at, sniffs and paws at, sits near, or mouths a suspect, or an object touched by a suspect -- the "alert," in the form of an alleged match of the object's scent with that of the suspect, is admitted as substantive evidence that the person identified committed the crime. 5

For example, a witness sees a murder committed, and although the murderer's face is hidden by shadow, his hat falls off as he escapes. The police have a witness who can identify the murderer's hat but not the murderer himself. An extensive investigation is conducted and, based purely on circumstantial evidence, a group of suspects is assembled into a line. A trained dog sniffs the hat, sniffs each person in the line, and then barks at suspect number three. ...
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