Tuesday, January 25, 2005

New interpretation of the Fourth Amendment

Thanks to searching through gritsforbreakfast's blogspot, I found the following information:
The Supreme Court, in deciding Illinois v. Caballes, revealed that police use of drug sniffing dogs at traffic stops doesn't constitute a search under the Fourth Amendent. The argument is that "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." (SCOTUS Blog).
I confess, I agree with gritforbreakfast on this one. It doesn't make any sense to me that, just because you may or may not possess contraband in your vehicle, which I concede is against the law, that your right to be searched with little more than a hunch, and I doubt the police would even need that, is forfeit. It seems to contradict what the Fourth Amendment says, which is: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
It's hard for me to conceive that there would be occasion on a "routine traffic stop" to have probable cause to search for contraband.
For those who say "well, I don't have contraband in my car, so I don't object to them searching and finding it in criminals' cars," I fear you're missing the point. There is a reasonable expectation of privacy that all people enjoy, and there appears to be a fine line now between searching a car, just because, and searching a house, or a business, or a person him or herself.


Sam said...

I think you're applying the Fourth Amendment too broadly. If they were walking by houses with a drug dog looking for contraband, I think it would be obtrusive, but the defendant in this case was driving on a public street. One has less of an expectation of privacy when he is on government property as opposed to his own. Also (I realize this is hairsplitting) the dog wasn't detecting drugs inside the car, but tiny aerosolized drug particles coming from the car. The police were technically searching for drugs in the air over a street and using that air to provide probable cause.

English Professor said...

I have to disagree with Sam. Surely staying within the safety of my own property is not what the Founders envisioned when they protected me from unreasonable search and seizure. I've never had an illegal article of any kind in my vehicle, but I'm still not going to give police officers carte blanche to search it. I understand the fine point of "sniffing the air," but that's hairsplitting to the nth degree, and violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

You all are the legal experts--I'm just giving my reaction as a law-abiding citizen who believes in the right to be left the heck alone if the police don't have a darned good reason to come poke through my things.

Steve said...

Just to clarify, EP,
Sam and I are law students, not lawyers, and anything we post is just our interpretation or opinion. It would be wrong on our part to forward the notion that our ideas are legal interpretations or something that could be construed as legal advice.