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S.C. court offers guidance on admitting police dog tracking evidence

By Fred Horlbeck
South Carolina Lawyers Weekly

Opinion Brief

Case name: State v. White (South Carolina Lawyers Weekly No. 010-073-09, 7 pages)

Court: S.C. Supreme Court

Judge: Justice John W. Kittredge

Attorneys: For defendant-petitioner: Appellate Defender LaNelle C. DuRant, S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense, of Columbia. For plaintiff-respondent: Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Senior Assistant Attorney General Harold M. Coombs Jr., and Fifth Circuit Solicitor Warren Blair Giese; all of Columbia.

Issue: Did a trial court have a duty to assess the reliability of nonscientific expert testimony under Rule of Evidence 702 and did it properly admit police dog tracking evidence?

Holding: Yes, trial courts have a duty to assess the reliability of evidence including nonscientific expert testimony as part of a threshold inquiry for admissibility under Rule 702. In this case, the dog tracking evidence was properly admitted because the dog was a German shepherd descended from known police and working dogs and had certifications in several areas of tracking. Its strongest tracking skill was locating people. Also, the dog and its handler had worked together for seven years and had conducted about 750 "tracks. "

Potential impact: The case marks the first time the state Supreme Court has set guidelines for trials to use in determining the reliability of dog tracking evidence.

RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. — A dispute over police dog tracking evidence has led the state Supreme Court to provide the first-ever guidelines for trial courts to use in determining whether such evidence is reliable.

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