Friday, March 18, 2005

Michael: Drug Sniffing Dog Abuse

I wrote an unpublished opinion letter after the Supreme Court ruled in Illinois v. Caballes in which they upheld warrantless searches of vehicles using drug sniffing dogs. I was reminded of some of my objections when I came upon the site Drug Sniffing Dogs & Rex the Wonder Dog (via BoingBoing) cataloging some of the many ways a defense attorney has learned of that police are now abusing their new powers.

Here is my letter:
I was surprised and disappointed to note that not one of Tuesday’s NewsTalk excerpts expressed any disagreement with the Supreme Court’s authorization of drug sniffing dogs at traffic stops.

The dissenting opinions in this case expressed a concern that I share: the majority’s reasoning could justify widespread suspicionless searches with dogs.

In parking lots, at traffic lights, or while you are just walking down the street, police could circulate with dogs attempting to detect the odor of contraband. Dogs and their handlers are fallible; are you willing to be strip-searched because you had anchovies for lunch?

We have sacrificed enough liberty and too many lives in pursuit of prohibition. I find it frightening that so many Americans, and the majority of this Court, seem eager to sacrifice ever more of our constitutional rights in order to attack a public health problem with the terribly blunt instrument of the justice system.


It turns out that neither I, nor the dissenting Justices, were nearly cynical enough about the many means that police would invent to abuse this new power in the crusade against drugs. Here are some cataloged at Drug Sniffing Dogs & Rex the Wonder Dog :

1. Cops ask to search cars for no reason at all. If a driver refuses consent, then police have no grounds to search. Without consent, cops need "probable cause" to search. Cops create cause with canines by claiming that the dogs alerted, and forcing a search. That is why some court opinions have turned drug dogs into props for lies, because the dogs provide probable cause to search against drivers who understand their 4th amendment rights. Cops will lie and say that a dog alerted, even if it didn't. In that sense, it doesn't matter whether or not dogs are well-trained or accurate, because dogs are often ruses for lies to violate constitutional rights.

2. Cops ask to search cars for no reason at all because they know that most Americans are too meek to say "no" because government schools have conditioned civilians to submit to government and have taught nothing about constitutional rights. When drivers say "no," then some cops tell drivers that further action is inevitable because radio dispatch "has a drug dog on the way over." It is often a lie to induce consent. There is no dog on the way.

3. If a dog is or is not "on the way," cops add additional lies to make drivers think that there will be a long wait and that the driver must stay until a dog arrives. Cops rely on driver ignorance of the fact that evidence will be suppressed if drivers are detained longer than it takes to complete the traffic stop (e.g. write the ticket). Drivers are induced to consent to search to avoid a long wait based on lies.

4. If a dog is enroute, cops let drivers think that they are obliged to stay even when the cop has no reason to detain drivers any longer. The cop's rationalization is that drivers loiter roadside with cops for no apparent reason or because drivers enjoy waiting for dog sniffs. Cops take advantage of drivers who are too stupid (or too meek) to ask if they are free to go, so that drivers "consent" to unwarranted detention by not leaving.

5. Cops lie about how long it is taking to write a ticket or to obtain a radio response on a driver's license or tag check. If a dog is actually on the way, the cops will make sure that the ticket is written very slowly, until the dog arrives.

6. If a dog alerts and nothing is found, then cops will never record that as an error, but will claim that the dog detected lingering odors of contraband that were recently present. Cops will testify that dogs never make mistakes, never have and never will, and that apparent errors are skillful detections of lingering (residual) odors of contraband.

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