Can Drug Dogs Really Smell Marijuana and Other Drugs Through Odor Proof Bags?

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The other day I was working with a drug dog expert who was reviewing a video from a police drug stop on Interstate 80 in Lincoln, Nebraska. After having reviewed the video and the training records of the dog, the expert was able to provide me with a great deal of ammunition to attack the government’s case, specifically whether the drug dog was properly trained and whether the drug dog actually indicated to the odor of narcotics. During our conversation, I asked the expert about the “odor proof” bags in which the marijuana was stored and whether the odor proof bags worked. In this case, I believe the bags were the LOKSAK Opsak bags. The expert told me that the odor proof bags in a controlled setting do work and that he has tested them. Unfortunately, the argument that the dog did not indicate because odor proof bags were used seldom wins.

Odor Proof Bags in a Controlled Setting

The expert explained that he used laboratory precautions to put marijuana into the odor proof bags using rubber gloves and was able to ensure no contamination on the bags. The expert then put the odor proof bags filled with marijuana in a car and ran a drug dog around the car. The dog did not indicate to the odor of marijuana. He replicated the experiment with other types of narcotics such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin and the dog did not indicate. When the expert told me the detailed precautions he put into doing this experiment to ensure there was no contamination, I was impressed with his diligence and scientific approach.

Odor Proof Bags in a Criminal Case

I informed the expert that often when I represent individuals traveling on the interstate that transport marijuana, methamphetamine or cocaine, the drugs are either heat sealed or placed in odor sealed bags, but yet the dogs still indicate. The expert explained that sometimes manufacturers that advertise odor proof bags do not provide odor proof bags and it is very easy to contaminate them. Furthermore, often individuals stopped on the interstate have, in the past, had other drugs or other paraphernalia in the vehicle. Obviously, from a criminal defense attorney’s perspective, the argument is that the dog never indicated because the drugs were in an odor proof bag, thus the dog was cued by the handler, the dog was not reliable, or the dog was trained to always indicate to the odor of narcotics because the dog is rewarded any time they indicate narcotics are in the vehicle. The dog is rewarded prior to law enforcement searching the vehicle. So, essentially the dog is rewarded for the behavior of indicating to the odor of narcotics when sniffing a car regardless of whether drugs, marijuana, or any other drug is actually found. The expert indicated this is certainly possible and can happen in certain situations.

Drug Dogs and Detailing

In another discussion with the expert about whether the drug dogs are actually alerting to a narcotic or simply displaying behavior the officer wants to see so that they can be rewarded, we talked about a concept called detailing. Detailing is a yes or no sniff. The handler directs the dog to a specific location and either the dog indicates to the odor of narcotics or he doesn’t. I have found through deposing and cross-examining some officers that not all dogs that get certified are able to detail. This is troubling. If a dog cannot pass a yes or no test, how do you know if the dog actually alerted and then indicated to the odor of narcotics after being walked around a car three or four times without indicating? On Interstate 80, it is common to see drug dogs walking around a car for two or three laps before the drug dog actually alerts and indicates to the odor of narcotics. The expert explained to me that this is cause for concern because it may give the dog the impression that the handler is going to walk him around the car until the dog alerts or indicates. The importance of a dog being able to detail is important to know whether the dog can or cannot indicate to the odor of narcotics. Obviously, if you direct the dog to a specific location to have the dog sniff and the dog does not indicate when drugs are there or indicates when there is no odor of narcotics present, you certainly know that the dog may not be reliable.

The Problem with Odor Proof Bags

Getting back to the bags, the bottom line is odds of contamination are pretty good, and arguing in court that there is no way a dog could have smelled through the odor proof bags will not likely be successful because the prosecutor will have a counter argument. Specifically, the prosecutor can argue that the vehicle in which the drugs were traveling in may have been used to transport drugs in the past and may have contaminated the interior of the car, that the cash found in the car may have had the odor of the narcotics, or that there may be contamination on the outside of the bag.

Nebraska Drug Lawyers

Our team has defended hundreds of individuals charged with drug related offenses. We understand the winning arguments in these cases and what to expect. If you want to challenge a drug dog search, unlawful arrest, and/or Fourth Amendment violation, contact Berry Law Firm.

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