Judge Doesn't Buy CBP's Argument That Dog Can 'Smell' The Difference Between Concealed And Unconcealed Humans

from the can-also-tell-if-weed-purchased-without-a-prescription-just-by-sniffing dept

If there's an unreasonable, warrantless search happening, there's a good chance Deputy (literal) Dog is on the case. Cops love their K9 buddies, mainly because nearly any motion or noise a police dog makes can be construed as an "indication" or an "alert." It's a blank permission slip, signed with a paw print.

In reality, though, contraband sniffing dogs aren't preternaturally smart. They are still man's best friend and they love pleasing their handlers. The reward that comes after every "alert" further impresses on the animal the value of "alerting."

This is one of law enforcement's major blind spots. Because contraband-sniffing dogs locate contraband at least part of the time, they're presumed to be infallible/miraculous. No one seems to be more amazed by these animals' skills than law enforcement officers. (Well, them and far too many judges…) But it's not often that you see a law enforcement officer claim his canine partner can do something anyone else would consider impossible, including an expert on law enforcement dogs.

On the way to having the fruits of his search suppressed, CBP Agent Aaron Miranda stated out loud -- and on the record -- that his dog could "smell" the difference between CONCEALED and UNCONCEALED humans.

Agent Miranda testified that Boeli is trained to find things by their odor, including concealed humans, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, and all derivatives of those drugs. Agent Miranda testified that when Boeli comes across an odor that he is trained to find “he changes posture, his demeanor. His breathing changes. He tenses up, starts breathing out his nose, closes his mouth. His whole body changes up.”
Now, it's one thing to sniff out concealed humans when no other visible humans are in the vehicle. That I can believe. But Miranda says Boeli can do this even when other, unconcealed people are in the car… or even when that car is in motion.
Agent Miranda testified that Boeli is trained to detect concealed people in different scenarios including inside a moving vehicle. Agent Miranda testified that Boeli can “distinguish cars with people in them from cars with concealed people in them.”
Do tell.
Agent Miranda testified that “I am not an instructor, so I don’t really know how they do the training or how he does it. It amazes me too, but it works.”

Miranda doesn't know how this happens or how it works. IT JUST DOES. Here's his definition of "works."
Agent Miranda testified that on a typical day thousands of cars come through the checkpoint and that Boeli could alert “anywhere from two to six or seven” times. Id. at 46. Agent Miranda testified that Boeli has found “five to seven human beings and twelve narcotics busts” over their five-year career. Id. at 105.
Math time:

Five years at ~200 working days per year multiplied by… oh, let's just call it 1,000 cars per day. That's 1,000,000 vehicles he and Boeli have stared/sniffed at. And Boeli's superior sniffing skills have netted the team "5-7 humans" and "12 drug busts." Generously assuming each illicit human was discovered in a separate vehicle, that's a hit rate of .002%.

Now, most vehicles traveling this stretch of California highway will contain nothing illegal, so the hit rate can't really be determined with any accuracy. But five years with 19 busts in an area (Highway 86 outside of Westmorland, California) where one would expect a higher rate of drug/human trafficking than further inland, this still seems incredibly low. And yet, Agent Miranda can't say enough good things about Boeli's ability to sniff out concealed humans in moving vehicles driven by unconcealed humans -- even when an expert on contraband-sniffing dogs contradicts his claims.
At the evidentiary hearing, Defendant presented the testimony of an expert witness who operates a business training dogs for law enforcement and security organizations.


Defendant’s expert was asked, “In your opinion is it possible to train a dog to alert to concealed human smell but ignore or differentiate other human smell in the same vehicle?” The expert answered, “Not inside the same vehicle. If there is somebody inside the vehicle and somebody in the trunk, or you take the person out of the trunk, it doesn’t matter. It is all – it is the same to the dog.”
The court found Miranda's testimony similarly unconvincing. When the burden is on the government to prove that its search was reasonable and justified by a trained dog's "alert," it has to offer something better than ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
In this case, Defendant has challenged the reliability of the training program and the circumstances surrounding the alert behavior. Defendant challenged Boeli’s ability to distinguish cars with people inside from cars with people concealed inside during the cross examination of Agent Miranda. Agent Miranda was not able to provide any evidence to support Boeli’s training to detect concealed people in moving vehicles. Agent Miranda testified “I don’t really know how they do the training or how [Boeli] does it. It amazes me too, but it works.” Agent Miranda stated, “I trained with my dog on these odors, but the actual training that goes into him knowing the difference is something that the... instructors do that and stuff. I don’t know how the dog would know the difference, but they just do. It is pretty amazing.”
Well, a trainer was asked and he stated that the "amazing" behavior witnessed by Agent Miranda simply does not exist. The most amazing act here was performed by the CBP and Agent Miranda, who managed to make all of the evidence they obtained with their warrantless search vanish into the ether.

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Filed Under: aaron miranda, border patrol, contraband, dogs, smelling

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  1. icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 5:14am

    Think of how much time and money they could save if they'd give up training dogs and just use police issue Dowsing Rods.

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