Court allows use of drug dogs in traffic stops

Previous ruling said privacy rights violated by unreasonable search

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Larry Shaw Real Estate

Friday, May 19, 2006

SPRINGFIELD - In a narrow decision, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed itself Thursday and ruled that police can use drug-sniffing dogs to search vehicles during routine traffic stops.

By a 4-3 vote, the court decided that the drug trafficking arrest of a driver stopped in 1998 for speeding on Interstate 80 in LaSalle County did not violate his constitutional rights. The man was charged with the drug offense after a police canine detected marijuana in his car while an officer was writing the traffic ticket.

Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri said this morning that he was pleased with the ruling.

"Quite frankly, I do believe 98 percent of people out there would recognize that just simply having a dog, during a traffic stop, walking around the exterior of their car, is a minimal intrusion, based upon the law enforcement rewards it can reap," Mangieri said.

In 2003, the state Supreme Court had ruled that Roy Caballes' rights of privacy and protection from an unreasonable search had been violated and overturned his conviction. But in January 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that ruling and sent his case back to the state court for another hearing.

Asked if he is surprised this case has bounced back and forth in the high courts, Mangieri admitted he is.

"It's in a public setting. ... This is not in your home. You have been stopped for a proper law enforcement purpose. We're not talking about road blocks, we're not talking about forced stops where the individual has not committed a violation," he said.

Mangieri said if a motorist has been stopped for speeding, having a burned out headlight or taillight, he does not see this as a problem.

"I don't fully appreciate the objection at that point of the minimal intrusion, if you call it that," he said.

Mangieri added one caveat, however.

"As long as it is done in the time it takes to write a ticket, I don't have a problem with it," Mangieri said.

However, if the ticket is written, then the motorist is told he or she will have to remain at the scene for 45 minutes because a police dog has to be brought in from another location, Mangieri feels a line has been crossed.

"I don't like that," he said.

Knox County Public Defender Jim Harrell doesn't like the ruling, period, based upon what he has heard of it. He said he has not had the chance to read the ruling yet.

"I don't think they should be able to do the search unless there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime," Harrell said. "But when someone is pulled over for a normal ticket, such as speeding or DUI, the only reason a dog should be called in is if there is suspicion."

Harrell said that could be an officer smelling marijuana smoke or seeing drugs in plain sight.

Harrell also is concerned about the chances for racial profiling or people being pulled over and the dog called in simply because someone is driving an older model car or lives in what is considered to be a bad part of town.

"I guess it's touching on a dangerous area," he said, "that being infringing on personal liberties of each individual. Does that officer have the right to strip search the person or tow the vehicle? So my concern is what will the next step be."

Harrell also discussed the situation where the dog is present and walks around the car while the ticket is being written.

"The state may say if there's nothing to hide, why would someone have a problem with that. But if you have done nothing wrong, why should you be subjected to a search?" Harrell said.

An Illinois State Police trooper had stopped Caballes, who then lived in Las Vegas, for driving 6 miles per hour over the speed limit. When the trooper radioed a dispatcher, an officer with a drug dog overheard the transmission and drove to the site. While the speeding citation was being written, the canine sniffed Caballes' car and alerted the officers. They found 280 pounds of the illegal substance in the trunk.

Caballes was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $256,136, the reported street value of the marijuana.

In appealing the verdict, Caballes' attorney, Ralph Meczyk of Chicago, argued the search was illegal because officers had no cause to look for drugs during a routine traffic stop. Meczyk also worried that the ultimate decision could have a broad effect on how far police could go in conducting searches.

The Illinois State Bar Association, the Office of the Cook County Public Defender and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed briefs with the court supporting Meczyk's arguments.

Thursday's majority opinion, written by Justice Rita Garman, said the "defendant's concerns about 'widespread' abuse of the use of police canine units and 'overwhelming numbers' of innocent subjects are pure speculation."

Meczyk said Thursday he is looking at other possible legal options, although he couldn't say what they might be.

"I'm still parsing through the opinion," he said. "I don't know where I'm going from here, but I am exploring other avenues."

Illinois Solicitor General Gary Feinerman, who had argued the prosecution's case before the Illinois Supreme Court, responded Thursday: "He already lost under the federal Constitution, and this is the state Constitution. I don't know where he could go."

When the case returned to the state court after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Caballes' federal rights had not been violated, Meczyk had argued that Caballes was protected by the Illinois Constitution.

In Thursday's reversal of its earlier decision, the state court said the Illinois Constitution's protections against illegal searches were "in lockstep" with those in the federal document, forcing the ruling against Caballes the second time around. Three of the seven justices dissented.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Feinerman, who was appointed by Madigan, said Thursday that the attorney general's office is pleased with the decision because "drug-detecting dogs are a valuable means of interdicting narcotics before they reach our cities, towns and neighborhoods." - Dana Heupel of Copley News Service contributed to this story.

On the Net:

Summary of case and decision

Full opinion

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