Pubdate: Wed, 26 Jan 2005
Source: Daily Cougar (U of Houston, TX Edu)
Copyright: 2005, Student Publications
Author: Zach Lee, Opinion Columnist


The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police officers can use
drug-sniffing dogs to search vehicles during routine traffic stops,
the Chicago Tribune reported. The case was brought to the high court's
attention after Roy Caballes was stopped for speeding in LaSalle
County, Ill. As one officer was writing out a warning, another officer
walked around the car with a dog. After the dog signaled the presence
of drugs, officers found a whopping 282 pounds of marijuana in the

Most of us are unlikely to be caught with more than 200 pounds of any
drug, but the decision sets a bleak precedent. Ralph Meczyk, Caballes'
lawyer in the case, explained why.

"As long as you're driving a car, it doesn't take much to commit a
traffic violation. That's enough for them to stop you, and once they
stop you, that's the end of it," he told the Tribune.

He's right. Even the most vigilant citizens -- the ones who always
buckle their seatbelts and use their turn signals -- are guilty of
speeding occasionally, even if it's going 37 mph when the speed limit
is 35.

It's not breaking the law by much, but it is breaking the law. Even a
small infraction like that is now enough to justify a drug search. The
court's decision gives immense power to law enforcement officers: the
power to arbitrarily stop almost anyone at almost any time and subject
them to the humiliation and invasion of privacy that come with an
unwarranted drug search.

Road trips are about to get a lot more difficult now that we all have
to leave our Ephedra at home.

The Supreme Court just opened the door for a whole new wave of
profiling. I find it hard to believe these random searches will be as
common in River Oaks as they will be in the Third Ward. Whether the
reason is race or social class is unimportant; there will be more
searches and, as a result, more arrests in low-income areas with high
minority populations. I'm just saying, Roy Caballes was the first
victim of this ruling, not Rich Whiteman.

More than that, it's a gross misappropriation of power in general, and
the ruling puts all Americans in the position to be violated at random
by the same people paid to protect them.

In its defense, the court did not give all dog searches a free pass,
but it also didn't set any real stopping point for something with a
very foreseeable domino effect. While the court did not explicitly
give police the power to use drug-sniffing dogs on parked cars or
pedestrians, it also did not explicitly prevent such abuses from
taking place.

Meczyk suspects law enforcement officials will try to push the
envelope in the future, bringing up the possibility of a drug-sniffing
dog signaling the presence of drugs inside someone's home. "Logically
extended to the next case, the house is the next one," he told the

He's right to be paranoid. Justice John Paul Stevens argued that these
dog searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment (the right to be free
from unreasonable searches and seizures). If it's not unreasonable to
search someone's car without a warrant, what invisible line separates
the home? What about people who live in mobile homes?

For all the loose ends that come with this decision, we've all learned
a valuable lesson: Don't speed with 282 pounds of weed in your trunk.
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