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Hastings Law Journal

Abstract

Thousands of "dog scent lineups" have been conducted in both the United States and Europe. In a "dog scent lineup," a dog scents an object found at the scene of a crime and then sniffs a line of suspects (or objects touched by suspects). If the dog "alerts" to a particular suspect, that alert is used as substantive evidence that the person identified committed the crime. Such lineups have resulted in the conviction of persons for robbery, rape and murder, and have lead to sentences of life imprisonment or even death.

Most American courts have rejected legal challenges to dog scent lineup evidence, concluding that such evidence is not "scientific" and is, therefore, not subject to the strict reliability tests often applied to scientific evidence. The author takes issue with that assumption, arguing that "scientific evidence" is any expert evidence likely to overawe a jury. Because there is a deeply held mythological belief in the infallibility of the canine nose, the author concludes that lineups are indeed "scientific." Having reached this preliminary conclusion, the Article addresses a host of potential evidentiary and constitutional objections to scent lineups and concludes that there is insufficient empirical support for the accuracy of scent lineups to justify using them in criminal trials.

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