Updated: 01-07-16
Firearm Laws
Search & Seizure

ILLINOIS v. CABALLES. U.S. Supreme Court (1/25/05)
on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Illinois. 03-923
The U.S. Supreme Court has rendered a 6-2 decision overturning the Illinois Supreme Court’s finding for a defendant, whose auto was searched after a traffic stop, and a very large amount of marijuana seized pursuant to a police dog’s “alert” to the officers of a drug find. This decision, while not related to firearms, is important to those concerned with our ever-diminishing Second and Fourth Amendment protections. The ruling in this case effectively by-passes the second tier inquiry that normally is addressed in Terry “stop and frisk” cases—that is, was the police action reasonable related in scope to the circumstances justifying the initial inquiry or “stop.” What today may broaden the scope of a traffic-violation-related seizure that uncovers narcotics, may tomorrow be employed in a manner to make every traffic stop “an occasion to call in the dogs, to the distress and embarrassment of the law-abiding populace.” See Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion.
A reading of Justice Souter’s dissent, and that of Justice Ginsburg joined by Justice Souter, gives a clearer view both of the rationale followed by the Illinois Supreme Court, and of that which makes sense in terms of the ordinary citizen’s expectations under Fourth Amendment protections.
Pertinent Facts & Lower Courts’ decisions: When the respondent was stopped by a State Trooper for speeding he was joined by another Trooper (with his narcotics/detection dog) who had picked up a radio dispatch of the stop. While the first trooper was writing a ticket, and respondent was seated in his squad car, the back-up trooper walked his dog around respondent’s vehicle and the dog “alerted” at the trunk. The troopers then searched the trunk, found a large amount of marijuana, and arrested the respondent—all within a ten minute time frame.
Respondent’s motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence was denied by the trial judge, the Court holding that the stop was not unnecessarily prolonged and that the dog alert was sufficiently reliable to provide probable cause for a full-blown search of the car trunk, since the dog-sniff was performed on the exterior of the vehicle while the respondent was lawfully seized for a traffic violation. The Appellate Court affirmed, and the Illinois State Supreme Court reversed, holding that the canine sniff was performed without any “specific and articulable facts” to suggest drug activity, and that the use of the dog “unjustifiably enlarg[ed] the scope of a routine traffic stop into a drug investigation.”
Majority Opinion: Justice Stevens, delivering the opinion of the Court addressed the narrow issue of whether the use of a drug-detection dog to sniff a vehicle during a legitimate traffic stop infringes upon Fourth Amendment protections.
The Court noted that while a concedingly lawful stop based on probable cause, resulting in a lawful seizure at its inception, can degenerate into a violation of the Fourth Amendment [U.S. v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 124 (1984)], there was no prolonged stop, or other compromise of any legitimate interest in privacy that would make the search intrusive so as to violate Fourth Amendment protections.
The majority analogized this case to its decisions in Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), and United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696 (1983) noting [c]ritical to the decision in Kyllo, was that the thermal imaging devise used to detect marijuana in a home was capable of detecting lawful activity, while in this case “the use of a well-trained narcotics-detection dog that ‘does not expose non-contraband items that would otherwise remain hidden from public view,’ Place, 462 U.S. at 707--during a lawful traffic stop generally does not implicate legitimate private interests.”
Following are a few highlights of the majority opinion (with some omissions not noted in the quoted text):
“In [Place] we treated a canine sniff by a well-trained narcotics-detection dog as “sui generis” ‘ because it “discloses only the presence or absence of narcotics, a contraband item.’” [Place at 707; see also Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 40, (2000)].
“ . . . Accordingly, the use of a well-trained narcotics-detection dog—one that ‘does not expose non-contraband items that otherwise would remain hidden from public view,’ Place, 462 U.S. at 707—during a lawful traffic stop, generally does not implicate privacy interests. In this case, the dog sniff was performed on the exterior of the respondent’s car while he was lawfully seized for a traffic violation. Any intrusion on respondent’s privacy expectations does not rise to the level of a constitutionally cognizable infringement.
“ . . . The judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”
Dissenting Opinions: Justice Souter in his dissent pointed to the myth of “infallibility” in dog alerts, and enumerated the many mistakes made by “sniff dogs” as cited in various cases—one in particular showing dogs that alerted falsely between 7% and 38% of the time, and a showing of false positives from 12.5 to 60% of the time, depending on the length of the search, according to a study cited by Illinois in this case in support of its position that dog sniff “alerts” are “generally reliable.” In Justice Souter’s words: “The infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction.”
Justice Souter reviewed the principles of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), noting that “[w[hile Terry authorized a restricted incidental search for weapons when reasonable suspicion warrants such a safety measure , id. at 25-26, the Court took care to keep a Terry stop from automatically becoming a foot in the door for all investigatory purposes; the permissible intrusion was bounded by the justification for the detention, Terry at 29, 30.” [the second tier inquiry under Terry principles]. The rule in Terry, as Justice Souter stated, should have been applied:
“ That has to be the rule unless Terry is going to become an open-sesame for general searches, and that rule requires holding that the police do not have reasonable grounds to conduct sniff searches for drugs simply because they have stopped someone to receive a ticket for a highway offense. Since the police had no indication of illegal activity beyond the speed of the car in this case, the sniff search should be held unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and its fruits should be suppressed.”
Justice Ginsburg, joined in dissent by Justice Souter: In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg agreed with the Illinois Supreme Court’s reliance on the two-part test taken from Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), “to determine the overall reasonableness of the stop.” In Justice Ginsburg’s words: “I would apply Terry’s reasonable-relation test, as the Illinois Supreme Court did, to determine whether the canine sniff impermissibly expanded the scope of the initially valid seizure of Caballes. (Several highlights of this dissent follow, with some omissions not noted in the quoted text):
“ . . . The unwarranted and nonconsensual expansion of the seizure here from a routine traffic stop to a drug investigation broadened the scope of the investigation in a manner that, in my judgment, runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment.
“ . . . The Illinois Supreme Court, it seems to me, correctly apprehended the danger in allowing the police to search for contraband despite the absence of cause to suspect its presence. Today’s decision , in contrast, clears the way for suspicionless, dog-accompanied drug sweeps of parked cars along sidewalks and in parking lots.
“ . . . Today’s decision also undermines this Court’s situation-sensitive balancing of Fourth Amendment interests in other contexts. . . . If canine drug sniffs are entirely exempt from 4th Amendment inspection, a sniff could substitute for an officer’s request to a bus passenger for permission to search his bag, with this significant difference. The passenger would not have the option to say “No.”
“ . . . For the reasons stated, I would hold that the police violated Caballes’ Fourth Amendment rights when, without cause to suspect wrongdoing, they conducted a dog-sniff of his vehicle. I would therefore affirm the judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court.”

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