17 01/24/05 03-923 Illinois v. Caballes [warning pdf file]
Routine traffic stop. Cop happens to have a drug-sniffin’ K9 unit within range. “Hey, Joe, why don’t you pop over to this ‘fail to signal’ call I have. I have absolutely no reason to suspect this person of having drugs on them, but what the heck. Maybe we’ll get lucky. I’m about to start writing the ticket, can you be here in three?”
That’s right: dogs sniffing around your car isn’t a search. A positive indicated by that dog is probable cause for a search, though.
Let me state right now that I have no problem with the notion that you do not have a reasonable right to protect illegal behavior from inspection. I think that’s a fair notion. Sort of a useless notion, but fair enough. Illegal behavior doesn’t somehow become legal if it is hidden from reasonable search, and one does not have any right to hide illegal activity.
But let’s just say that I don’t think it makes any sense at all to say that a dog smelling around a car doesn’t constitute a search. You’d think that makes me disagree with Place before this, but read on…
From the majority opinion:
My bolding. And my WTF. If the officer just opened the trunk, it would be unreasonable search, because it could reveal private information. But the drug-sniffing dog won’t. So far, that’s totally true. We then take the trial judge and SCOTUS “conclusion” that the sniff does give probable cause for a search. In other words, we’ve nicely sidestepped the little problem of privacy.
Let’s read this opinion for what it means: when a more-or-less infallable agent that is not a police officer indicates to a police officer that illegal activity is taking place, the police officer then has probable cause for a search… even if there was no reason whatsoever for the agent in question to be “sniffing” around! That agent doesn’t need a reason. In this case, it was a dog. But…
SCOTUS has had some words about using infrared scanners to search for dope. Why? --Because such a scan, conducted by a law enforcement officer, could reveal information that was more or less protected from unreasonable search. Like when you are naked, in your bath, having sex, watching television, reading a book, etc. But, hold the phone. Let’s take this conclusion to its logical end. If a computer was doing the scanning, and looking for marijuana-like patterns in the scan, and was not recording the scan, and no law enforcement officer was watching the scan… well, let’s just have the scan give a little sound when it detects marijuana-like signatures. Like, I dunno, a barking sound. Well, there’s probable cause, and the officer walks over and looks at the scanner, which is no longer an unreasonable search. IR vans, here we come? Slippery slope, or obvious conclusion from the ruling?
So now lets just take a beat cop, only make him a K9 unit, with a dog trained to sniff for drugs. Walking down the street, you pass the dog and it starts barking. Maybe it smells the crack in your jacket, maybe it smells the coke on your money, maybe it just fucked up (dogs are fallible creatures, after all). So the cop searches you. No problem! It wasn’t unreasonable, the dog told me to do it. And dogs can’t search. They just, you know, sniff. Not the same thing.
No, the dog didn’t infringe on privacy expectations, if we assume dogs can’t search. But the officer did. How do we get around it? I know! Dog signals can constitute reasonable cause! Whew, dodged that bullet.
Maybe, you say, I’m overreacting. Seems to me that the case pretty clearly demonstrates what constitutes an unreasonable search: one without probable cause that could reveal to the officers private information. Not one that, as such, could reveal private information. Just so long as the–what do we even call it, now?–“non-searchie search” only indicates the presence of illegal activity. Like, you know, automatic monitoring of phone calls trying to detect key phrases. Hey, this machine is nearly infallible, and the cops aren’t listening, so no search was done! Until they do the search of course. With probable cause.
My emphasis. Of course, a device specifically designed to only detect a heat-signature of marijuana is incapable of reporting whether someone is taking a bath. You can take a bath and never get caught! They follow that passage up immediately with:
And a van with a scanner driving down the street (cops are allowed to lawfully drive down the street, conceded) that has no display doesn’t constitute a search, either. And when the little light blinks that says, “Bark! Bark!” the cops can now reasonably search. And discover you taking a bath one floor above your favorite plants that may or may not be marijuana.
Justice Souter has a few choice words of his own in the first dissenting opinion. While the good judge does not take it to the hysterical extremes I do, note:
Souter then goes on to crush the notion that dogs are “good enough for government work”, as the saying goes, by referencing other court cases showing such error rates as high as 8% over the service life of the dog. I don’t know about you, but I think reasonable people would not interpret that as infallibility. One in a hundred? --OK, let’s nitpick semantics. Eight times that?!
You say fallible, I say infallible, eh? The entirely reasonable judge notes,
Quite so, reasonable people would not expect ideal infallibility. The normal kind would be quite good enough.
And here we see that Souter might, in a more reasonable tone, be thinking the same thing as me:
My emphasis. And, need I say, a nicer presentation of my own fears just from reading the damn news clipping that alerted me to this case. Ever the doper, I figured I should go read the case before I start a whole thread on the matter. Having read the majority opinion and Souter’s analysis, I figure it is time to turn it to the peanut gallery.
How far does this case really extend? Will it necessarily be narrowly interpreted to only include dogs, or will the reasoning behind dog searching originally defined in Place and now extended here in Caballes pave the way to slide right into all kinds of non-searchie searches? Often, I take the Bricker position on SCOTUS rulings I don’t like: “reasonable people may disagree.” And I so enjoy reading SCOTUS opinions that I have nothing if not respect for them as reasonable people. But this case makes me say, “Where do we go from here?” Officers, engaging in otherwise lawful activity, can now non-searchie search, at least with dogs (but that’s open to interpretation, if you ask me and Souter), in order to really-search search? Most importantly, do you agree with SCOTUS after hearing Souter’s dissent regarding Place’s reasoning to this case?
Check your turning signals if you love the Fourth Amendment. New bumper sticker.