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High Court Takes Search Case 

Use of Drug-Sniffing Dog Led to 12-Year Sentence 


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Source: Washington Post (DC)
Author: Charles Lane, Washington Post Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, April 6, 2004; Page A02 
Copyright: 2004 Washington Post 
Contact: [email protected]

The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will decide whether the Constitution requires police to have clear reasons for using drug-detection dogs to sniff vehicles they have pulled over for traffic violations. 

In a brief order, the court said it will hear an appeal by the state of Illinois, which is seeking to overturn an Illinois Supreme Court ruling last year that said the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches means police must have "specific and articulable" facts to justify a canine sniff. 

The state argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has said in two past decisions that a dog sniff is not a search under the Fourth Amendment. In addition, the state argues in its petition to the court, a sniff of the car's exterior adds nothing to whatever invasion of privacy the traffic stop itself might cause, and is therefore a "Fourth Amendment non-event." 

With the use of trained canines for detecting drugs and explosives already widespread and set to become even more so because of terrorism concerns, the case is an important opportunity for the court to clarify the constitutional doctrine in this area. 

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, backed by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, told the justices that the Illinois Supreme Court's ruling "threatens to undermine the government's war on terror, which relies on canines to sniff vehicles and luggage for narcotics and explosives at large gatherings or at transportation centers such as our nations' airports." 

The case began on Nov. 12, 1998, when Illinois state trooper Daniel Gillette stopped Roy I. Caballes for driving 71 mph on a stretch of Interstate 80 with posted speed limit of 65 mph. 

While Gillette was writing up a warning ticket, a sniffer dog from another police unit arrived and discovered marijuana in Caballes's trunk. Based on this evidence, Caballes was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 12 years in prison. 

Caballes's lawyers argue, however, that the police deliberately prolonged the traffic stop until the dog arrived. They had no specific evidence to warrant the delay, the lawyers argue in Caballes's brief, which made the subsequent dog sniff impermissible under Supreme Court decisions governing brief police detentions. 

The case also confronts the court with some of the more nuanced realities of police-citizen encounters on the nation's highways. 

In a 1996 decision, the court permitted the police to use valid traffic violations as a pretext for stopping motorists to check them for drugs. 

In reliance on that opinion, many police agencies have developed anti-drug programs in which officers are trained to read the faces of drivers they pull over and to inspect their cars for such telltale signs of possible drug dealing as zippered plastic bags and lawyers' business cards, the police chiefs' brief explained. Police are trained to view even religious paraphernalia with a jaundiced eye because it is "sometimes used to divert suspicion," the brief noted. 

In this case, Gillette found it suspicious that Caballes was wearing a business suit even though he said he was driving from Las Vegas to Chicago. 

The Illinois Supreme Court majority called that a "vague hunch." 

"We fail to see how his stated preference for business clothing suggests any involvement in past or present criminal activity," the majority said in its opinion. 

The case is Illinois v. Caballes, No. 03-923. Oral argument is expected in the fall, and a ruling by July 2005. 

Related Articles:

Justices to Rule on Drug Dog at Traffic Stop

Supreme Court To Weigh Drug Dog Searches

Court To Rule on Drug-Sniffing Dogs 

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