Group criticizes use of scent lineups

September 21, 2009 3:31:31 PM PDT
Are scent lineups a useful tool in solving crimes or really just junk science?If you ask the Innocence Project of Texas, such a tool should never be used because it's lead to several people being wrongfully accused.

Scent lineups are, in theory, similar to photo lineups. One of the cans has the scent of a potential suspect, while the rest have scents of other people not linked to the crime. A bloodhound has to pick the correct one, but according to the Innocence Project, that doesn't always happen.

The Innocence Project is demanding that law enforcement agencies across Texas stop using scent lineups and that the attorney general review every case where dogs were used to help obtain a conviction. The group wants the state to release anyone wrongly convicted.

The Innocence Project of Texas is calling into question countless scent lineups done by Fort Bend County Deputy Keith Pickett and his dogs.

"His absolute lack of any documentation over what he does, his absolute failure to adhere to even the most minimal rules that have been created for this kind of forensic technique, make him a clear and present threat to justice in Texas," said Jeff Blackburn of the The Innocence Project of Texas.

Two people the dogs tied to crime scenes have now been proven innocent. Former Victoria County Sheriff's Commander Michael Buchanek, who was accused of a murder which someone else later confessed to committing, and another, Calvin Lee Miller, who was proven innocent by DNA after dogs put him at the scene of a rape.

The Innocence Project calls the smell tests used in those cases and others, "junk science," claiming there may be countless others wrongly convicted.

"We believe that now is the time of the state of Texas to step up and do the right thing and prohibit the use of lineups to ensure there is a scientific foundation and basis," said Blackburn.

Picket refused to respond to the allegations lodged by his critics. His attorney though says just because a dog alerts on a sample, it doesn't mean the suspect necessarily committed a crime.

Of the dogs, Asst. Ft. Bend Co. Attorney Randy Moss says, "They're an investigative tool and you'd almost never make a case solely on the dogs."

That's something confirmed by Ft. Bend Co. Chief Deputy Craig Brady.

"I have some personal reservations about the use of dogs in court," said Chief Deputy Brady.

He insists still that the dogs are a powerful investigative tool. He just doesn't believe the results of their tests should ever be heard in court.

"In my opinion, the information obtained from a dog as a result of scent lineup should not be enough to charge someone with a crime. You should have independent corroborating evidence, in my opinion," said Chief Deputy Brady.

According to the Innocence Project, the State of Texas leads the nation in the number of wrongful convictions exposed by DNA with 38. Most of those wrongful convictions have happened in Dallas County.

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