ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Privacy Rights in Police-Dog Case

November 10, 2004 12:00 am

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Traffic Stops Are Not A License for Criminal Investigations, Civil Liberties Group Says

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today heard arguments in a case that will determine whether police must have individualized suspicion before using drug-sniffing dogs during routine traffic stops.

“The deployment of drug-sniffing dogs cannot be justified by the legitimate investigative needs of a routine traffic stop,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “A trained dog will add nothing to the evidence of a broken tail-light nor assist in determining how fast a motorist was driving. It is, however, an invitation to racial profiling”

The ACLU submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of Roy Caballes, a 36-year-old Las Vegas resident who was charged with marijuana trafficking in Illinois in 1999. Caballes, who was en route to Chicago, was pulled over by a state trooper for driving six miles above the speed limit. While the trooper was issuing Caballes a warning ticket, a second trooper, who had not been called, arrived and began walking a canine unit around the car. The dog discovered marijuana in the trunk and Caballes was arrested and later sentenced to 12 years in prison. On November 20, 2003, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the sentence and ruled that the use of a drug-detection dog during a legitimate traffic stop violated Caballes’ constitutional rights.

In its brief, the ACLU urges the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court’s ruling, stating that the Fourth Amendment does not allow for police to convert a routine traffic stop into an intrusive drug investigation. The ACLU also said that the use of dogs during routine stops frightens motorists and alters the interaction between law enforcement and the motorist.

“Millions of people in the United States drive automobiles every day, and most of them, from time to time, drive a few miles over the speed limit,” said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois. “Drivers understand that they can be ticketed or fined for traffic infractions, but they do not expect to be treated as drug suspects without any reason in full view of other motorists on the side of the road.”

The ACLU brief also pointed out that police dogs are intimidating to most people and far from foolproof in their ability to detect drugs, especially when they are utilized in the absence of any basis for suspicion.

For more information on this case, Illinois v. Caballes, go to /cpredirect/18245.

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