Friday, August 15, 2014

On Drug Dogs, Rafael Montero, Thalidomide, and Florida v. Harris

The Mets are going nowhere fast.  Terry Collins, the manager, said the other day that he expects them to be in the post-season.  Either he was either lying or he's delusional.  The team (and I'm trying to be gentle about this) sucks.

Their superstar hitter, David Wright, is slugging an anemic .384.  He's got a 13-game hitting streak going, but during the streak he's managed only once to hit for extra bases.  That was a double.  Still, and with more than a few glitches along the way, their pitching - especially their starting pitching - has been pretty good these last couple of months.  One of those glitches has been Rafael Montero.

Back in May, when Jenrry Mejia went on the DL, the Mets called up Montero from AAA Las Vegas where he'd been, as he had in the minors the year before, pitching brilliantly.  He bombed.  In 4 games he threw 20 innings, gave up 5 home runs, 13 runs altogether. He gave up 21 hits and walked 11. They sent him back down.

And he pitched brilliantly.  So when Jacob deGrom went on the DL, last week, they recalled him. 

He pitched 5 innings on Wednesday.  Gave up 7 hits.  Walked 2.  5 runs, three of them were homers.

Montero's still young, just 23.  It looks like he has all the talent you could want.  And maybe yet he'll prove to be the pitcher that he looks like he is when he's in the minors.  But maybe he's just what they call a AAAA player.  Too good for the minors, not good enough for the majors.   He wouldn't be the first.  

Take Brandon Wood.  Please.

In 2003, the Dodgers picked Wood in the first round of the draft.  After the 2005 minor league season where he hit a gaudy .321 with 43 homers, he was ranked the number 3 prospect in all of baseball.  Over 5 years in the big leagues, he amassed 272 at bats, a .186 average, and slugged .289.

Maybe these guys clutch.  Maybe they're just not as good as the signs suggest.  What we know that they don't perform when it really counts.

We all know people like that.  They look great until they actually have to do something.  Their test scores are terrific.  Great SAT's, LSAT's off the charts.  Top grades in law school.  Hopeless in the courtroom.  Nobody looked more like someone who should have been a Supreme Court Justice than Warren Burger.  And there was every reason to think that thalidomide was the ultimate cure for morning sickness.
In Florida v. Harris, the Supreme Court explained that for 4th Amendment purposes, what counts with a drug dog is whether he's properly trained or certified, not whether he proves competent in the real world.  Pass the tests in a controlled environment, Elena Kagan said, and he's reliable.  Fucks up all the time in the field?  Close to irrelevant.  The Florida Supreme Court had held otherwise, but they were, she said, wrong.  (Footnotes omitted, extra paragraph breaks added.)

Making matters worse, the decision below treats records of a dog's field performance as the gold standard in evidence, when in most cases they have relatively limited import. Errors may abound in such records.
If a dog on patrol fails to alert to a car containing drugs, the mistake usually will go undetected because the officer will not initiate a search. Field data thus may not capture a dog's false negatives. Conversely (and more relevant here), if the dog alerts to a car in which the officer finds no narcotics, the dog may not have made a mistake at all. The dog may have detected substances that were too well hidden or present in quantities too small for the officer to locate. Or the dog may have smelled the residual odor of drugs previously in the vehicle or on the driver's person. Field data thus may markedly overstate a dog's real false positives.
By contrast, those inaccuracies — in either direction — do not taint records of a dog's performance in standard training and certification settings. There, the designers of an assessment know where drugs are hidden and where they are not — and so where a dog should alert and where he should not. The better measure of a dog's reliability thus comes away from the field, in controlled testing environments.
For that reason, evidence of a dog's satisfactory performance in a certification or training program can itself provide sufficient reason to trust his alert. If a bona fide organization has certified a dog after testing his reliability in a controlled setting, a court can presume (subject to any conflicting evidence offered) that the dog's alert provides probable cause to search. The same is true, even in the absence of formal certification, if the dog has recently and successfully completed a training program that evaluated his proficiency in locating drugs. After all, law enforcement units have their own strong incentive to use effective training and certification programs, because only accurate drug-detection dogs enable officers to locate contraband without incurring unnecessary risks or wasting limited time and resources.
This is, of course, nonsense.  The best test of whether a drug dog is in fact reliable is whether the dog is in fact reliable.  

Before the Mets game Tuesday, General Manager Sandy Alderson said Montero was picked as the guy to fill deGrom's spot in the rotation was based on merit.  You know, he tests well.  Alderson thought so before, too.  Of course, baseball doesn't have a Supreme Court to explain that superstars are determined not be how well guys play in the majors but by whether they were great in the minors. 

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