SCOTUS Hears Drug Sniffing Dog Case

Washington, DC: On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court (USSC) heard oral arguments on a case that tests the scope and limit of the Fourth Amendment and personal privacy. The question at hand: When is a sniff a search?

The USSC took the case on Illinois’ appeal from a Illinois Supreme Court ruling, where the court ruled that police overstepped their bounds by running a drug-sniffing dog around the car of Roy Caballes. Caballes was a motorist initially pulled over by law enforcement for a simple speeding violation resulting in arrest and a 12-year sentence for possessing $256,000 worth of marijuana in the trunk of his car.

Caballes’ lawyer, Ralph Meczyk argued that a traffic stop did not give Illinois state troopers probable cause to search Caballes’ car for drugs. “It’s a search. A limited one, but still a search,” Meczyk said. “They invaded a private space where he had a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan countered, “dog sniffs are unique in that they only reveal the presence or absence of contraband. And there is no right to privacy for drugs.”

NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St, Pierre commented on the case that “with the justices’ skeptical questioning of the defendant’s legal reasoning and if the past serves as prologue, the USSC is unfortunately likely to rule in favor of more expansive drug-sniffing dog searches.”

“In recent years the USSC has generally given broad search powers to police holding that police only have to wait 15 seconds to knock a door down after announcing their presence; police can arrest all the occupants of a car where drugs are found and that having dogs sniff airport luggage does not require probable cause because the dog-sniff is not intrusive and airline passengers have no reasonable expectation of privacy concerning the smells from their luggage.”

For more information, please contact NORML’s executive Director Keith Stroup, Esq. or Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre at (202) 483-5500.