Friday, September 18, 2009

Scent identification - the new "poo-poo" science?

The Innocence Project is set to release a report next week that labels scent identification as junk science. Fort Bend County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Pikett is the lightning rod who claims his dogs have picked more than 2,000 suspects out of "scent line-ups."

Deputy Pikett is on the receiving end of two federal lawsuits filed by individuals who Pikett implicated in criminal acts. Charges against the two men have been dropped.

According to this article in the Victoria Advocate, Deputy Pikett's credibility has been challenged as he claims his dogs rarely, if ever, make mistakes.

In 1998, Keith Pikett turned his hobby into a career with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office.

Since then, police, prosecutors and the media have praised the deputy and his dogs' work in more than 1,000 investigations.

But Pikett's credibility is being tested in both civil and criminal court. Two federal lawsuits, filed little more than a year apart, claim Pikett's scent lineups are designed to implicate suspects - not to gather objective evidence.

Meanwhile, judges have twice excluded him from testifying as an expert because of questions about the science supporting his work or his honesty.

In 2007, Pikett testified that three of his dogs, Jag, James Bond and Clue, never erred in scent identifications, despite having sniffed hundreds of lineups. A fourth hound, 12-year-old Quincy, performed 1,483 scent lineups and made only two mistakes early in her career, Pikett said.

Last month, Grits for Breakfast posted this article in which he compares Deputy Pikett's dog-and-pony show to the exploits of a horse trainer who was able to influence the "answers" his horses gave to math problems.

Have the courts thrown in the towel on their duty as gatekeepers of scientific evidence?

No comments: