WYTHE COUNTY, VIRGINIA – The nose of a drug-sniffing police dog is not so sharp, but it’s good enough to support cocaine charges against Herbert Green.
That was the opinion of federal Judge Glen Conrad, who denied a motion this week to suppress the drugs found in Green’s sport utility vehicle with the help of a police dog named Bono.
Green’s lawyer had argued that Bono’s track record — drugs were found just 22 times out of 85 “alerts” by the dog — was so poor that police lacked probable cause to search Green’s SUV.
Had Bono failed the legal smell test, Green might have escaped prosecution on charges of having a kilogram of cocaine hidden in the back of his Lincoln Navigator.
Bono “may not be a model of canine accuracy,” Conrad wrote in an opinion filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.
However, the judge ruled that other factors, including the dog’s training and flawless performance during re-certification sessions, were enough to overcome a challenge raised by Green’s attorney, public defender Randy Cargill.
The ruling clears the way for prosecutors to try Green on charges of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
Green, 45, of Pittsburgh, was arrested in March 2011. A state trooper patrolling Interstate 77 in Wythe County pulled him over on suspicion of having illegally tinted windows and an obscured license plate.
When Bono was called to the scene, he began to wag his tail furiously after catching a whiff of something near the rear panel of the vehicle, according to earlier testimony.
Prosecutors say that gave police probable cause to search the SUV, where they found a duffel bag holding cocaine and about $7,000 in cash.
But after learning that Bono had an accuracy rate of just 26 percent, Cargill filed a motion seeking to suppress the evidence.
At a hearing earlier this month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Neese defended the performance of the German shepherd.
In some cases where nothing was found after an alert by Bono, police later determined that drugs had been in the vehicle earlier, likely leaving an odor the dog was trained to detect, Neese said.
Taking those cases into account, Conrad found that Bono’s accuracy rate was at least 50 percent.
In determining whether police had probable cause, the judge wrote that he had to consider other factors beyond the dog’s track record.
As a federal appeals court once put it, “the reliability of a drug-detection dog does not rise or fall on the basis of one sniff.”