Steven Nicely is one of the top drug dog experts in the country. His testimony led a recent suppression victory in Arizona. The judge ruled that the State’s drug dog was unreliable, despite the fact that the drug dog had all the standard training and certification. I asked Steven for a Q&A.
1. Why did the judge rule that the drug dog was not reliable?
There were different reasons the main one was the certification process. They put a dog on the street that responded incorrectly when only six targets had been placed. Also, those responsible for the certification process did not take steps to correct the problem.
Another reason the dog had a 100% probability at the time of this case it would respond and a 42% probability that drugs would be found. The judge also agreed the handler was cueing the dog when he believed drugs were present.
2. The State offered numerous training records for this dog, some showing a perfect record for drug detection. Why did the court reject this dog’s certification/training records?
The main reason for this was there really was no correlation between training and testing, and real world.
Most of the training the handler did it by himself. One time when he did train with someone else the dog again responded incorrectly. I explained to the court the records carried no weight because of those facts. When reviewing training records if it is not indicated if the handler knew or did not know the location of the training aids or if anything was or was not present it cannot support the team.
3. What should defense lawyers look for when we are watching a K9 search video?
In this case there was no video but there are so many subtle movements it is hard to describe. The main thing is this if the team goes around the vehicle more than once in all probability the dog will be cued.
4. There seemed to be a lot of discussion in the court’s opinion about residual odor. What’s that?
Residual odors is odor that lingers after the substance has been removed. Many handlers and trainers use it as an excuse.
5. Anything else?
What was really interesting is that Mr. David Reaver of Alderhorst International who on his CV claimed to be an internationally recognized expert trained and certified this team. He wrote a report to rebut my original report but would not come to court to defend or support his report. The Az. DPS sent their head trainer to testify for the state. What I am beginning to see is when the teams are challenged on behavior science issues they cannot meet the challenge.