Ferguson-Smith, Melissa and Ware, Sharon. Evidentiary Issues Surrounding
Accelerants Detected By Canines. American Bar Association Annual Meeting,
August 9, 1993.
Abstract: This article discusses evidence obtained from a canine
detection team and how it is used in court. The author summarizes and explains
many cases that have set precedents in the subject.
In State v. Acevedo, the court admitted into evidence samples that a
dog identified as containing an accelerant, but which a lab could not detect
any accelerants. The court allowed the canine handler to testify to the
accuracy of a trained canine and explain how a canine is more sensitive
than a laboratory. There are also other cases in which canine handlers or
chemists have testified that a canine is able to detect small amounts of
accelerants that a lab cannot.
In People v. Pristell the court allowed testimony regarding a canine's
involvement and went further to allow the jury to see a videotape showing
the dog "alerting" to accelerants. However, the judge denied a
live demonstration by the canine.
In State v. York, the defendant was found guilty of arson. During his
appeal, the defendant claimed that his fourth amendment rights were violated
due to the search of the fire scene without a warrant. The court upheld
his conviction stating that the defendant had no valid expectation of privacy
in fire scene debris.
Accelerant detection canines are assisting prosecutors in convicting
arsonists by providing stronger evidence. The courts are continually setting
precedents regarding this relatively new issue.