Pubdate: Tue, 25 Jan 2005
Source: USA Today (US)
Page: 2A
Copyright: 2005 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Joan Biskupic


Court OKs Practice Even If Drugs Aren't Suspected

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police may use
drug-sniffing dogs during routine traffic stops, even when officers
have no reason to suspect the vehicle is carrying narcotics.

By a 6-2 vote, the justices reversed an Illinois Supreme Court ruling
that said the use of a dog wrongly converts a routine traffic stop
into a drug investigation. The high court said a dog's sniff is not
intrusive enough to amount to a search that violates the Fourth
Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches. The majority said that a
motorist does not have a legitimate expectation of privacy for
contraband hidden in a trunk or other location that would be detected
by a dog.

Dissenting Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter said the
ruling could lead to dog-accompanied drug sweeps of cars that are
parked along sidewalks or in parking lots, and they questioned whether
it could give police more latitude to use dogs to look for drugs among
travelers' belongings.

Barry Sullivan, a Chicago lawyer who filed a brief in the case on
behalf of the ACLU, added that the ruling could make motorists
vulnerable to drug searches when they are stopped for minor traffic

But Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose appeal to the court
was backed by 28 states and the U.S. Justice Department, hailed the
decision. She called the use of canine units "indispensable," and said
the ruling would help reduce drug trafficking.

The Supreme Court has long allowed police to stop a vehicle if an
officer believes some wrongdoing is underway. But the court has
required searches to be linked to the reasons that led to the stop.
Monday's case presented a different twist because it tested whether
police must have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing related to drugs
before using a dog.

The case began in 1998, when an Illinois trooper stopped Roy Caballes
for going 71 mph in a 65 mph zone. While the trooper was writing a
warning ticket, another trooper walked a drug-sniffing dog around the
car. The dog signaled at the trunk, and after a search, the troopers
found marijuana. Caballes was sentenced to 12 years in prison and
fined $256,136.

Writing for the court's majority, Justice John Paul Stevens stressed
that Caballes was stopped lawfully and that the entire episode lasted
less than 10 minutes. He said that an unreasonably prolonged traffic
stop might have been unconstitutional.

Stevens rejected arguments that Caballes' situation should be covered
by a 2001 ruling in which the court said that a police department's
use of a thermal-imaging device to detect lights used to grow
marijuana inside a home amounted to an illegal search. "Critical to
that decision was the fact that the device could detect lawful
activity -- in that case, intimate details in a home, such as at what
hour each night the lady of the house takes her daily sauna and bath,"
Stevens said. He said drug-sniffing dogs detect only illegal activity.

In his dissent, Souter questioned whether dogs turn up only illegal
activity. He then joined a dissent by Ginsburg that said the ruling
could lead to actions more intrusive than a dog's walk around a
stopped car. They emphasized, however, that the case involved drug
detection, not dogs used to find explosives as part of public-safety

Sullivan said that although Stevens said the ruling applied only to
car stops, its rationale could encourage police to walk drug-sniffing
dogs around homes.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is being treated for cancer, did
not participate in Illinois vs. Caballes and some other cases the
court heard in November.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake