One of the worst Supreme Court decisions of recent years was Caballes v. Illinois, where Justice Stevens wrote for the majority that merely having a dog accuse you was enough to justify a 4th Amendment search with no other suspicion needed. He wrote:
A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment.â€
… and with that, he put the Supreme Court seal of approval on police fishing expeditions.
He wrote that as if the Fourth Amendment was merely an issue of criminals’ rights as opposed to citizens’ rights. And apparently, in the world of most of the Justices, dogs are completely infallible, because absolutely no thought was given to the rights of innocent drivers not to have their cars ripped apart on the side of the highway.
The Supremes completely failed in part because they didn’t demand proof of canine infallibility, and also because they failed to understand statistical math. We went ahead and crunched the numbers to show that even high-percentage-success dogs will infringe the rights of a horrific number of innocent citizens.
A few years later, I revisited Caballes while reviewing a piece of absolute rubbish by James B. Johnston of Seton Hall University, who fawned over Stevens’ horrible decision without an ounce of research or thought.
Just last month, someone (perhaps Johnston) left a message stating that:
Since you are such an expert on Mr. Johnston and his â€œdrivelâ€ note this. His article was cited as an authority in a brief filed by the Florida Attorney Generalâ€™s Office to the Florida Supreme Court. The case was a drug sniffing dog case. Guess what. The Forida AG won. Some â€œdrivelâ€ . You and your fellow apologists for the drug trade really need to get over yourselves..
That doesn’t make it not drivel. It just means that the Florida Supreme Court was also dead wrong, and Johnston just helped them screw it up.
Well, just in case anybody still believed that this was a good decision, some hard data is now out.
[Chicago] Tribune analysis: Drug-sniffing dogs in traffic stops often wrong — High number of fruitless searches of Hispanics’ vehicles cited as evidence of bias.
The dogs are trained to dig or sit when they smell drugs, which triggers automobile searches. But a Tribune analysis of three years of data for suburban departments found that only 44 percent of those alerts by the dogs led to the discovery of drugs or paraphernalia.
For Hispanic drivers, the success rate was just 27 percent.
For Hispanic drivers, the success rate was just 27 percent. That means that when you see a couple of police cars on the highway with their lights flashing, with officers going through a car, searching through the trunk, while some poor Hispanic youth stands nervously by, 73 percent of the time, the driver was innocent. Of course, the search took a long time, so by now maybe he was late to his job (“Why were you late?” “The police were searching my car.”) or maybe even to a date.
It’s not victimless. And clearly, based on the numbers, not only are Hispanics being targeted, but it’s likely that the officers are passing on to their canines their desire that the Hispanic be a druggie (and dogs are often eager to please).
“Is there a potential for handlers to cue these dogs to alert?” he asked. “The answer is a big, resounding yes.”
That frustrates Martinez, the attorney from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Dogs do not have the human failings that have led to the targeting of minorities, but Martinez worries that an officer’s bias can translate through the dog leash. She fears drug-sniffing dogs are another tool to justify roadside searches of innocent drivers, the unfair consequences of what she called “driving while Mexican.”
“People of color are just targets,” she said.
I really love the way law enforcement responds to this study:
Dog-handling officers and trainers argue the canine teams’ accuracy shouldn’t be measured in the number of alerts that turn up drugs. They said the scent of drugs or paraphernalia can linger in a car after drugs are used or sold, and the dogs’ noses are so sensitive they can pick up residue from drugs that can no longer be found in a car.
Oh, that’s convenient. Just claim that every innocent person that was targeted probably had the smell of pot on their jacket and that’s why Spot alerted.
Well, if that’s the case, then make it illegal to smell like drugs and then prove in court that there was a physical odor present. Otherwise, it’s just a convenient unprovable excuse for you to justify the unlawful violation of people’s Fourth Amendment rights.
And… “accuracy shouldn’t be measured in the number of alerts that turn up drugs” Really? How should it be measured? You don’t get to just pretend that searches of innocent citizens didn’t happen.