- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004


Driving 6 mph over the speed limit got Roy Caballes pulled over. But what happened next landed him at the Supreme Court, which considered yesterday when police can use drug-sniffing dogs.

Mr. Caballes was wearing a suit and driving a new Mercury when he was stopped on an Illinois freeway in November 1998. It looked like he would get off with a warning until Krott the drug dog showed up and sniffed out $250,000 worth of marijuana in Mr. Caballes’ trunk.

Mr. Caballes’ conviction eventually was overturned on grounds police had no reason to search his car.

Dogs trained to find drugs and bombs are becoming more common in airports and elsewhere — even the Supreme Court — because of terrorism concerns. Police also often use them for routine traffic stops.

Justices will decide whether people who have given police no reason to suspect illegal activity have a constitutional protection against dog searches.

The Supreme Court has tried in recent years to better define someone’s right to be left alone in their homes and vehicles. In this case, the court must clarify earlier opinions that found that drug dog use is not necessarily a search that falls under the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches or seizures.

“A sniff is not a search,” justices were told by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Chicago lawyer Ralph Meczyk, representing Mr. Caballes, countered: “It is accusatory. It is profoundly embarrassing.”

Justice David H. Souter appeared troubled by the prospect of more use of dogs.

“We’re opening a large vista for dog intrusion,” he said, adding that he was worried about officers canvassing garages and neighborhoods with animals. Police “can take a dog to a front door and ring the bell and see what happens.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that “dogs can be frightening, humiliating.”

Miss Madigan responded that millions of people have dogs as pets.

Christopher Wray, a Bush administration lawyer who joined Miss Madigan to defend dog searches, noted that beagles — generally seen as unimposing — are used in airports to detect illegal vegetables and that other canines have a long history in crime-fighting.

Also yesterday, the Supreme Court considered whether a jury that sentenced a convicted killer to death had properly taken into account his religious conversion, which a prosecutor incorrectly contended was irrelevant.

In a 24-year-old case, most of the justices seemed to agree that the California prosecutor was wrong to make that assertion about William Payton and that a trial judge should have corrected the prosecutor. But the justices were divided over whether the errors made a difference in sentencing.

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