Texas Court Reverses Conviction Based on Dog Scent Lineup Evidence

September 27, 2010

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed a murder conviction that was based on dog scent lineup evidence.  The opinion in Winfrey v. State is available at 2010 WL 3656064, and describes the scent lineup as follows:

[The lineup] involved obtaining scent samples from clothing that the victim was wearing at the time of his death and from six white males, including appellant. The dogs were “pre-scented” on the scent samples obtained from the victim’s clothing. The dogs then walked a line of paint cans containing the scent samples of the six white males. All three dogs alerted on the can containing appellant’s scent sample.

The scent lineup was conducted by Deputy Keith Pikett of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s office.  Deputy Pikett has conducted similar scent lineups for other cases in Texas.  A search in the Texas Cases (TX-CS) database for pikett /p scent returns 14 results.  Among the results is the Court of Appeals opinion in Winfrey v. State that the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed.  That opinion (291 S.W.3d 68) discusses in some detail the mechanics of the scent lineup conducted in this case.

The Court of Criminal appeals eventually concluded that Winfrey was convicted solely on the basis of the scent lineup evidence, as there was neither physical evidence nor eyewitness testimony to support the conviction.  The opinion concludes:

It cannot be denied that the jury and the court of appeals found the dog-scent lineup evidence in this case to be compelling. . .  But, the question essentially presented in this case is whether dog-scent lineup evidence alone can support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. And, while this evidence may raise a strong suspicion of appellant’s guilt, we nevertheless decide that, standing alone, it is insufficient to establish a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.