Admissibility of tracker dog evidence: An expert evidence?

“AN EXPERT CAN GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF THE EXPERIMENTS PERFORMED BY HIM, TO SHOW HOW HE FORMED AN OPINION OVER A GIVEN SET OF FACTS”. CAN A TRACKER DOG DO THE SAME?

The role played by tracker dogs to pursue traces is an important aspect of criminal investigation. However, the admissibility of such dog traced evidence in comparison to the scientific experts can be far from straightforward if sufficient basis are not established. Before we get to the question as to whether tracker dog evidence is comparable to scientific expert evidence it is important to know what is expert and expert evidence.

WHO IS AN EXPERT?

The word expert being exhaustive, has been interpreted in many different ways, but the most admissible interpretation is that of the Powell “A Social Scientist” who said ‘expert is the one who has devoted his time and studies to a specific branch of learning and is capable of giving an opinion of his specialized field’.
Apart from this the legal interpretation given to an expert is dealt under section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, which states “opinion of a third person when relevant “. It trails as ‘ when the court has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law, science, art, identification of handwriting and finger impression, the opinion upon that point by a person skilled in the same are relevant facts and these persons are considered as experts’.

WHAT IS EXPERT EVIDENCE?

As per general rules expert evidence is opinion evidence, opinion of a witness, evidence that is purely advisory, as they are not witness of facts, the only duty with which such experts are employed is to furnish all the necessary scientific criteria for testing the accuracy to the judge.

EXPERT EVIDENCE AND ITS VALUE

Expert evidence cannot be considered to be conclusive, but just a corroborative evidence to other evidence and for such expert evidence to hold a value, it must be supported by reasons and independent evidence.
The Supreme Court has time and again ruled that expert opinion has to be corroborated by other evidence and the logic behind the same is that evidence by an expert is always weak due to the fact that human memory and knowledge is limited and imperfect and so cannot be conclusive1.
The Kerala High court is one of its decisions ruled that if the conclusion reached by the experts are not satisfactory and is not supported by reasons, then in such cases the court is not bound to accept them blindly2.

SCOPE

WHEN CAN SUCH EVIDENCE BE ADMISSIBLE?

● Where the subject is such that expert opinion is necessary

● Where the expert is qualified to form an opinion

● Nature of testimony of the expert

● The facts on which opinion is based3.

There are various provisions embedded under the CrPC and the evidence act that deal with experts and their attendance in Courts. Section 482 provides for inherent powers to the high court to call for second reports from the chemical examiner.

FUNDAMENTAL ISSUES SURROUNDING DOG TRACKER EVIDENCE

Expert evidence in relation to tracker dog evidence has a fundamental issue of following up accurately, what constituted the thought process of a dog to reach such conclusions. The first question that comes to our mind is that, how does a dog give account if his experiments?
To draw inferences of a tracker dog was to undertake the dangerous exercise of entering “a region of conjecture and uncertainty”4. The court has also ruled that the trailing of either a man or an animal by a bloodhound should never be admitted in a case5.
In R v. White, the court seemed to equate the position obtained by tracker dogs with that of Red Indian trackers, who died before they could be cross examined. However in modern times body of case laws have evolved in relation to conduct detection dogs6.

JUDICIAL PERSPECTIVE

CAN TRACKER DOG EVIDENCE BE COMPARED TO SCIENTIFIC EXPERT EVIDENCE?

There are a handful of decisions wherein the Supreme Court has held that tracker dog evidence, though admissible as evidence, is not conclusive and thereby is also a weak piece of evidence to be solely relied upon.
The weakness of evidence based on tracker dogs has been dealt with in the article “Police and Security dogs”, there is little knowledge and much uncertainty as to the precise faculties which enable dogs to track and identify criminals as they engage themselves by just mere instincts and training imparted to them7.
Tracker dog evidence is not comparable to scientific evidence as the behavior of criminals and blood capsules has not elements of deliberate choice or conscious volition. In the present State of scientific knowledge, tracker dog evidence even if admissible does not have much weight8.
In State of Maharashtra v. Mangi Lal the police dog tracking the scent from the place of incident to the house of the accused is no evidence in eyes of law9.

CONCLUSION

Therefore all I would like to say is that, there is no doubt that dogs have many thought processes similar to humans and are also very influential in criminal trials, but at the same time such thought processes come with a risk of deception and imperfections. Therefore laying sole reliance on tracker dog evidence to pronounce one’s conviction is not what the court recommended over the period of time.

1 AIR 1963 SC 1940.
2 AIR 1974 Ker 308
3 Ibid
4 1920 SALR 58
5 THE PEOPLE V. PFANSCHMIDT 1914
6 1926 3 DLR 1
7 (2001) 6 SCC 205
8 AIR 1970 SC 283
9(2009) 15 SCC 415

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