CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, January 24, 2005

Supreme Court Issues New 4th Amendment Decision Today

Today, the Supreme Court decided Illinois v. Caballes, holding that a police officer does not need reasonable suspicion to have a drug-detection dog circle a vehicle properly stopped for a routine traffic stop.  The decision was 6-2 with Ginsburg and Souter dissenting.  In this case, when the defendant was stopped for speeding, officers paraded the canine around his car, and the canine alerted to the presence of narcotics. At that point, the officers' suspicion went from zero to probable cause and they executed a search, found drugs and then arrested the defendant.  Justice Stevens wrote in his opinion for the Court:

In this case, the dog sniff was performed on the exterior of respondent's car while he was lawfully seized for a traffic violation. Any intrusion on respondent's privacy expectations does not rise to the level of a constitutionally cognizable infringement.  This conclusion is entirely consistent with our recent decision that the use of a thermal-imaging device to detect the growth of marijuana in a home constituted an unlawful search. Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27 (2001). Critical to that decision was the fact that the device was capable of detecting lawful activity--in that case, intimate details in a home, such as 'at what hour each night the lady of the house takes her daily sauna and bath.' Id., at 38. The legitimate expectation that information about perfectly lawful activity will remain private is categorically distinguishable from respondent's hopes or expectations concerning the nondetection of contraband in the trunk of his car. 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.   

Read Orin Kerr's analysis of the case at The Volokh Conspiracy here.  [Mark Godsey]

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