The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether police can use drug-sniffing dogs to check motorists pulled over for speeding or other reasons but who have given police no particular reason to suspect they may be carrying drugs.
Lower courts have divided over whether police must have some reason to suspect illegal activity before they allow a dog to sniff around a car during an ordinary traffic stop.
The case is another in a long line of Supreme Court cases involving cars and traffic stops. As in past cases, the case of Roy Caballes tests police power to look for evidence of wrongdoing against the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Illinois’ attorney general asked the high court to take the Caballes case after the state’s highest court ruled that police improperly broadened an ordinary traffic stop by walking a drug dog around the outside of Mr. Caballes’ car. Mr. Caballes’ drug conviction was overturned by the ruling.
“A sniff by a drug-detection dog is uniquely unobtrusive,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote in asking the court to hear the appeal.
The dog does not search a car in the same way a police officer would, Miss Madigan said.
“Information is obtained without the intrusion or discomfiture associated with a traditional search,” she wrote.
The case arose from a 1998 traffic stop along Interstate 80. A state trooper pulled Mr. Caballes over for driving 6 mph over the speed limit. Mr. Caballes produced his driver’s license and other paperwork on demand, but refused permission for the officer to search his car trunk.
The trooper told Mr. Caballes he would issue only a warning for speeding, but noted later that Mr. Caballes still seemed nervous. The trooper also said he noticed the smell of air freshener in Mr. Caballes’ car.
While the trooper and Mr. Caballes spoke, another officer arrived with a drug dog. The dog indicated the presence of drugs in Mr. Caballes’ trunk.
The court yesterday also:
Refused to get involved in a patent dispute concerning a division of Halliburton, the energy and government-contracting company formerly led by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Said it will use the appeal of three men prosecuted in a multimillion-dollar whiskey-smuggling ring to clarify when the U.S. government can pursue wire-fraud charges.