Pubdate: Mon, 31 Jan 2005
Source: Desert Dispatch, The (Victorville CA)
Copyright: 2005 Desert Dispatch
Note: Reprinted from The Orange County Register
Action: Supreme Court Gives Drug Dogs Free Rein


Court Ruling on Drug-Sniffing Dogs Continues Erosion

Perhaps it's not the stuff of massive outrage. But a U.S. Supreme
Court decision issued last week -- which allows drug-sniffing dogs to
sniff a car during a routine traffic stop -- represents another small
erosion of privacy and personal freedom. Freedoms are generally lost
little by little, often by giving authorities just a little more
latitude in difficult or ambivalent circumstances. We fear Illinois v.
Caballes, which reversed the Illinois Supreme Court, will come to be
seen as another small step in the slow but steady erosion of privacy.

Mr. Caballes was stopped in Illinois for going six mph over the speed
limit. While the officer was writing a warning, a second officer with
a drug-sniffing dog came to the scene and had the dog walk around the
car. When the dog alerted on the trunk, the officers opened it, found
marijuana and arrested Mr. Caballes.

The trial court refused to suppress the marijuana evidence. But the
Illinois Supreme Court held that it should have been suppressed,
finding that there were no specific and articulable facts discovered
during the traffic stop to suggest drug activity, and that use of the
dog had unjustifiably enlarged a routine traffic stop.

We think the Illinois court had it right. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
in dissent, argued that the decision "clears the way for
suspicionless, dog-accompanied drug sweeps of parked cars along
sidewalks and in parking lots ... Nor would motorists have
constitutional grounds for complaint should police with dogs,
stationed at long traffic lights, circle cars waiting for the red
signal to turn green."

It's worth noting that this decision applies only to drug cases, not
to dog-sniffing searches for explosives, which might arguably be more
justified in this era of uncertainty and potential terrorism. It
simply carves out a little larger space in what might be called the
drug-war exception to the Fourth Amendment, which requires that
searches be based on probable cause and require a warrant from a judge
before they are conducted.

Thus the fundamental assumption behind a free society -- that except
in extraordinary circumstances people should be free of official
surveillance and invasion of their persons and properties -- is eroded
just a bit more.
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