Pubdate: Thu, 27 Jan 2005
Source: Daily Texan (TX Edu)
Section: Opinion, Viewpoint
Copyright: 2005 Daily Texan


The US Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that could lead to an 
increasingly more lenient policy concerning automobile searches and the 
right to privacy. The court reached the decision with a 6-2 vote. This 
ruling completely ignores past judgments handed down by the court.

Following the decision in Illinois v. Caballes, officers are now permitted 
to bring drug-sniffing dogs to smell the outside of vehicles pulled over 
for routine traffic stops - even if there is no probable cause.

This decision does not come as a surprise from the Rehnquist Court, which 
has generally been a friend of police searches. The court has previously 
ruled in favor of police policy on motor-vehicle searches, allowing greater 
leniency in investigative situations.

Officers should not have an open-ended policy for vehicle searches, and 
this ruling is one more step in violation of motorists' rights. Allowing 
drug dogs to smell the outside of a vehicle in hopes of finding illegal 
narcotics with nothing more than a vague hunch directly undermines the 
Fourth Amendment right protecting against illegal search and seizure.

The Austin Police Department said the new ruling will not affect the way 
APD officers search vehicles and that they will continue to require 
consent. Other police departments should follow suit and honor the privacy 
of motorists.

Opponents of the Supreme Court ruling, including the two lone dissenters - 
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter - say the use of drug dogs 
will make routine traffic stops longer and more adversarial and broaden the 
scope of police powers. Other opponents believe officers who have had a 
long history of racial profiling will increasingly target minorities on the 

Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said 
the Supreme Court's ruling has "yet to have an immediate effect on state 
trooper policy for searching vehicles." But, in the future, "it may come 
down to what local prosecutors tell the troopers they are most comfortable 
with as far as legal searches." Mange said for now the DPS will continue to 
search vehicles only with probable cause.

The Rehnquist Court may believe it's helping to defer illegal drug 
possession by increasing the scope of warrant-less searches, and supporters 
of the decision may believe it will aid motorist safety by keeping 
law-breakers in check, police officers should not be able to continue to 
assume every motorist on the road has something to hide.
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