Relentless Pursuit of Wisdom and Liberty

The weblog companion of, dedicated to pondering, "If Patrick Henry could see us now..."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Supreme Court OKs use of drug-sniffing dogs in traffic stops

Not sure how unhappy I am about this ruling:
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police can have dogs check out motorists' vehicles for drugs even if officers have no particular reason to suspect illegal activity.

The 6-2 opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, stipulates police dogs may sniff only the outside of a car after a motorist is lawfully stopped for a traffic violation, such as speeding or failing to stop at a stop sign.

But privacy rights advocates said the ruling would lead to far more traffic stops as a way to find drugs. They also warned that the decision could open the door to more expansive searches, from sniffs inside the vehicle to checks of cars parked along sidewalks and pedestrians on the street.
These are the kinds of gray areas where privacy is in danger, like the use by police of infrared scanners to "see through" the walls of a house without a search warrant, and the practice by federal agents to sniff internet traffic. What constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment in these cases is debatable and very tough to define. The War on Drugs crowd will say, "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" but the trust we place in public officials to only use the power responsibly (which is far from guaranteed) as well as the danger is in the slippery slope that such justifications engender.


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