Officials watching supreme court case on drug dog use

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 8, 2004

A U.S. Supreme Court case involving the use of drug dogs duringtraffic stops has law enforcement officers rallying to supporttheir canine allies.

According to case files as reported in the Associated Press, RoyCaballes of Las Vegas was pulled over for speeding and was about toget away with a warning when another Illinois trooper pulled upwith a drug dog.

The dog indicated there were drugs in the trunk of the car. Thevehicle was searched and approximately $250,000 worth of marijuanawas found.

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The Supreme Court will use the Caballes case to clarify whenpolice can use drug dogs to check stopped cars whose drivers havegiven police no particular reason to suspect illegal activity.

Caballes had produced his driver’s license and other paperworkon request, but refused permission for the officer to search hiscar trunk.

Lower courts have continually been divided about whether policemust have specific suspicions before allowing a dog to sniff aroundthe exterior of a car during a routine traffic stop.

Lincoln County Sheriff Wiley Calcote and Brookhaven Police ChiefPap Henderson stand firmly on the belief that drug dogs are a majorforce in the war on drugs.

“They are a great tool for interdiction operations,” Calcotesaid. “I don’t believe drug dogs are abused by law enforcementofficers. It’s not a violation of anyone’s rights to walk a dogaround the outside of a car.”

Henderson agreed that the dogs perform a key role in druginterdiction efforts.

“Drug dogs are another tool, and a good tool when used properly,against drugs,” he said. “I feel very strongly that, if the dog iscertified as a drug dog, the courts should uphold the arrests.”

The chief added, however, that there is enough gray area in thelaws that the dogs are abused in some areas nationally.

“Some law enforcement officers take advantage of dogs,” he said.”They use them to target certain people. They use them to profile,but that’s not going to happen here.”

The dogs are abused, Henderson said, when officers deliberatelypull people over who meet a certain criteria on minor trafficviolations specifically to check the vehicle for drugs.

“I personally don’t believe every car you stop is a drug dealer,and we don’t do that,” he said. “I don’t believe in(profiling).”

However, Henderson said he does not see a problem with dogsbeing walked around the outside of a car during legitimate trafficstops.

“The difference is in intent,” he said. “I don’t believe itviolates a person’s rights for a dog to walk around a car. Thedog’s nose is very sensitive and if it picks up the smell of drugs,then I believe probable cause is there to make a search.”

It’s a fine line sometimes, Calcote said, to determinelegitimate searches on traffic stops when a person refuses to allowa search.

“You build your case on how that person’s acting,” he said. “Ifhe’s acting like he’s hiding something, I don’t see a problem withletting the dog walk around the outside of the car.”

Both officers agreed, however, that allowing the dog toinvestigate the interior of a vehicle would need strong probablecause.

Henderson said he feels the court should be able to make acompromise to protect individual rights while retaining the abilityof drug dogs to perform their jobs.

“I think if they wanted to they could put some teeth in it byputting certain rules there on when the dogs could be used,” hesaid. “But they need to remember that the dog is the officer’spartner. If he’s taken out of the car it’s for that officer’sprotection, and if the dog should hit on a car, then the probablecause is there.”