Newsbrief: Supreme Court to Look at Drug Dogs in Traffic Stops 11/12/04

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The use of drug dogs to sniff vehicles during routine traffic stops has become increasingly common. Wednesday, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could bring the practice to a screeching halt. In Illinois v. Caballes, the court will decide "whether the Fourth Amendment requires reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify using a drug-detection dog to sniff a vehicle during a legitimate traffic stop."

The case arose in November 1998, when an Illinois State Police trooper pulled over Roy Caballes for going six miles per hour over the speed limit on Interstate 80. As the trooper ticketed Caballes for speeding, and after Cabelles refused the officer's request to consent to a search of his vehicle, another trooper with a drug dog arrived, and the dog alerted to the scent of drugs before the ticket was issued. The troopers then searched Caballes' vehicle and found marijuana in the trunk. Caballes, who had two previous marijuana distribution arrests, was found guilty of trafficking and sentenced to 12 years in prison and a $256,000 fine -- equal to the value of the seized pot.

His conviction was upheld on appeal, but then overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court. On a 4-3 vote, that court held it was unreasonable for the trooper to authorize a sniff by the drug dog because he had no reasonable suspicion a crime was being committed. The drug dog search was based on "nothing more than a vague hunch" and did not meet the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment, the Illinois court ruled.

"While dog sniffs are not physically invasive, they do intrude on reasonable privacy interests," wrote Caballes' attorney Ralph Meczyk in his brief to the court. "Using a drug dog during an otherwise routine stop can be intimidating, accusatory, and humiliating."

The Rehnquist Court has generally been a friend of police searches, especially in the context of the war on drugs. In a 1983 case, the court ruled that drug dog sniffs did not constitute a search. On the other hand, the court in 2000 refused to allow random roadblocks to search for drugs. In that case, police used drug dogs to check vehicles at roadblocks in poor Indianapolis neighborhoods, but the court held that the roadblocks were unconstitutional suspicionless searches of passing drivers.

Illinois Solicitor General Gary Feinarman, who is arguing the case for the state, hoped the Supreme Court would follow its 1983 ruling. In his brief, Feinarman argued that drug dog searches are not really searches, as the Supreme Court had done in 1983. "Police officers need no individualized suspicion that illegal drugs are present to justify conducting an external canine sniff of a vehicle at a lawful traffic stop," he wrote.

A decision in the case is expected next June.

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Issue #362, 11/12/04 Editorial: The Spirit of Lawfulness | Ever Upward: At Nearly 1.5 Million, US Prison Population at New High | In an Hour of Conservative Ascendancy: Prospects for Drug Reform at the Federal Level During the Next Four Years | Syracuse Reconsiders Drug Policy | Newsbrief: Congressional Drug Warrior Threatens Canada Over Marijuana Legislation | Newsbrief: In New Twist in Thai Drug War, Police Detain and Drug Test Club Goers | Newsbrief: Ann Arbor Officials to Ignore Voters' Will on Medical Marijuana | Newsbrief: Georgia Supreme Court Says Wife Can't Consent to Search of Home Against Husband's Will | Newsbrief: Austin, Texas, Cop Killed Enforcing Marijuana Possession Law | Newsbrief: Supreme Court to Look at Drug Dogs in Traffic Stops | This Week in History | The DARE Generation Returns to DC: Students for Sensible Drug Policy 2004 National Conference Next Month | Apply Now to Intern at DRCNet! | Seeking Information, Affiliations, Link Exchanges | The Reformer's Calendar

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