Pubdate: Wed, 09 Feb 2005
Source: California Aggie, The (UC Davis, CA Edu)
Copyright: 2005 The California Aggie
Author: Christian Danielsen, Aggie Staff Writer
Cited: Illinois v. Caballes
Action: Supreme Court Gives Drug Dogs Free Rein
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Opponents Worry About Privacy, Intrusive Searches

If you're pulled over with an illegal drug in your car, hiding it somewhere 
and keeping cool might be enough to fool a police officer.

Probably not the drug dog, though.

In a 6-2 decision last month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that if a 
police dog sniffs something questionable in a car during a traffic stop, 
police can search it, even if the stop is for something as simple as a 
broken taillight.

At issue are the concepts of "probable cause" and "reasonable suspicion," 
murky legal standards that police must meet in order to perform 
non-consensual searches.

The defendant in the case, Roy Caballes, was pulled over in Illinois in 
1999 for driving 6 mph over the speed limit. The officer who pulled him 
over noted Caballes' nervousness and that he had an air freshener in the 
car. After Caballes refused a search, the officer was set to issue a simple 
warning ticket.

During the encounter, however, a second officer arrived on the scene with a 
police dog and circled Caballes' car. The dog alerted at the trunk, at 
which point the officers searched it and found almost 300 pounds of 
marijuana inside.

Caballes received a 12-year prison sentence, a conviction upheld all the 
way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which ruled the dog sniff "unjustifiably 
enlarged the scope of a routine traffic stop into a drug investigation."

On Jan. 25, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.

In the court's majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens argued that 
citizens have no right to expect privacy for illegal substances.

"A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals 
no information other than the location of a substance that no individual 
has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment," he wrote.

According to UC Davis law professor Jennifer Chacone, the decision is the 
latest in a series of rulings to weaken the Fourth Amendment's right 
against unreasonable search and seizure.

"I see it as a general decline of protections, in light of the notion of 
the Fourth Amendment allowing people to be left alone," she said. "It 
certainly gives certain police departments more leeway to conduct sniffs or 

Chacone also voiced concern over police using the decision unfairly against 
minority groups.

"There are several studies that document people are far more likely to be 
pulled over if they're black or Latino," she said. "The likelihood of those 
groups being sucked into the net of these dog searches much more easily is 
an inescapable possibility."

While several law enforcement groups applauded the decision, civil 
libertarian groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are upset 
over what they see as an overreach of power.

"The concern with this case is that it has changed the nature of every 
traffic stop," said Ed Yohnka, director of communications for the Illinois 
ACLU. "Police are now able to go ahead and bring in something intrusive 
like a drug-sniffing dog or something else as routine."

"Even with no indication of illegal activity, thousands of people stopped 
every day could be subject to a menacing search," he continued.

Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed, as 
both issued lengthy dissenting opinions in the case. Breyer cited evidence 
that drug dogs sometimes alert falsely, and that 80 percent of U.S. 
currency has drug residue on it.

"In practical terms, the evidence is clear that the dog that alerts 
hundreds of times will be wrong dozens of times," he wrote.

Ginsburg also warned that the ruling could give police a green light to 
perform dog searches of cars in parking lots, or even of people on the street.

But according to Davis Police Department spokesperson Lieutenant Darren 
Pytel, the use of a drug-sniffing dog would be "very, very rare" during a 
traffic stop. He also said a dog usually isn't necessary to tip an officer 
off that there might be drugs in a car.

"Most of the time an officer would be dealing with marijuana, which they 
can smell [on their own] anyway," he said. "That's actually pretty common."

Pytel noted that police already use dogs to sniff luggage at airports and 
perform sweeps at events with important people in attendance. He also said 
the possibility of police using dogs in parking lots or on the street in 
general is unlikely.

"I don't want to say 'no, it won't ever happen,'" he said, "but we have no 
plans to do that, and this decision doesn't affect our day-to-day 
operations at all." 
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