Jul 13, 2010 Can humans detect unburnt cocaine odor?
DEA image in the public domain.
Can humans detect unburnt cocaine odor? The Maryland Court of Special Appeals said in 2003 it is “scientifically impossible that the confiscated drug could be detected because the cocaine seized and the caffeine with which it was cut had no detectible odor.” Seldon v. Maryland, 151 Md. App. 204, 824 A.2d 999 (2003), cert denied, 377 Md. 114, 832 A.2d 206 (2003).
In a case like this the Commonwealth needed to offer expert testimony to explain how the chemistry of processing cocaine creates a unique, distinct odor regardless of what chemicals or extraction methods are used. The Commonwealth’s theory assumes that there is a strong correlation between the odor that Rivet smelled and the presence of cocaine. See Sands, 424 Mass. at 188. This assumption rests on an untested hypothesis. Id. For example, studies show that drug sniffing dogs do not actually detect cocaine itself, but detect its by-product, methyl benzoate. United States v. $30,670, 401 F.3d 448, 457 (7th Cir. 2005). The experts testified that not only does methyl benzoate evaporate rapidly, but also, dogs (and perhaps humans) “cannot smell cocaine at all because the [cocaine] acts has as an anesthetic that deadens the olfactory senses.” Id. This case law raises many questions concerning Masterson’s testimony. Although he knew how cocaine was processed, he admitted that he was ignorant of how cocaine gives off its alleged distinct odor. The Commonwealth failed to meet the Lanigan standard by demonstrating that Masterson’s theory was tested, generally accepted, subject to peer review, or published. See Lanigan, supra.