Pubdate: Tue, 25 Jan 2005
Source: Greensboro News & Record (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Greensboro News & Record, Inc.
Author: Eric J.S. Townsend, Staff Writer


GREENSBORO - You can lie to the officer after blowing the speed limit,
but it's hard to fool that police dog sniffing your exhaust pipe for

The U.S. Supreme Court expanded police search powers Monday by
allowing canines to circle vehicles stopped for routine traffic
infractions, even if officers have no reason to suspect drugs are
hidden inside.

In the Piedmont Triad, expect little to change. Several area agencies
already use canines in the same fashion just sanctioned.

Had the Supreme Court's decision been different, well ... it's safe to
say K-9 officers across Guilford County breathed a collective sigh of
relief Monday afternoon.

"It's not going to change anything we're not already doing," said
Capt. Tom Sheppard with the Guilford County Sheriff's Department. "If
it had gone the other way, it certainly would have affected us."

Authorities use dogs around the outside of vehicles if a driver
arouses suspicions. In fact, officers say, they employ police dogs
only in a small percentage of stops.

Some giveaways for police when deciding to use dogs: the strong scent
of air freshener, drivers who provide vague descriptions of travel
plans or cities of origin, and past criminal records involving narcotics.

"What the Supreme Court did validates a long-standing police
practice," said Al Andrews, attorney for High Point police. "It
doesn't mean when you get stopped in High Point you'll now have a dog
going around your car."

That would be a "financial and logistical" impossibility for the
agency's four active police dogs, he said.

"If (officers) have a right to be there, the dog has a right to be
used," said Officer J.D. Frazier with Greensboro police's canine unit.
"We couldn't go up on private property, but if it's public property
like a road or a parking lot or hotel lot where you don't have the
expectation of privacy, a police officer could look in the car."

In a 6-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Illinois State
Police, who stopped Roy Caballes in 1998 for driving 6 miles over the
speed limit.

As one trooper wrote a warning ticket, a second trooper walked his dog
around the car. The dog alerted troopers to the trunk, where they
found $250,000 worth of marijuana.

Caballes argued the Fourth Amendment protects motorists from searches
such as dog sniffing and that the police had no reason to suspect
drugs. Justice John Paul Stevens disagreed, reasoning that the privacy
intrusion was minimal.

Caballes' conviction was thrown out by the Illinois Supreme Court, a
ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed.

"The dog sniff was performed on the exterior of respondent's car while
he was lawfully seized for a traffic violation," Stevens wrote. "Any
intrusion on respondent's privacy expectations does not rise to the
level of a constitutionally cognizable infringement."

Civil liberties groups, however, distrust broader police

And one Supreme Court justice warned traffic stops might grow more
"adversarial" because of the ruling.

"Under today's decision, every traffic stop could become an occasion
to call in the dogs, to the distress and embarrassment of the
law-abiding population," she wrote.

The decision "clears the way for suspicionless, dog-accompanied drug
sweeps of parked cars along sidewalks and parking lots."

Before Monday's ruling, the Supreme Court had authorized drug dogs
primarily to sniff luggage at airports.

"The use of dogs is intimidating," said Harvey Grossman, an attorney
with the American Civil Liberties Union in Chicago.

"Thousands of motorists have called complaining about suddenly finding
their cars surrounded by policemen and drug dogs. Now no one is safe
from this major intrusion into our lives."

Staff writer John Vandiver and The Associated Press contributed to
this article.
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