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Illinois v. Caballes: Is the Consitution going to the dogs?

The United States Supreme Court eroded our freedoms yesterday when it ruled that the police can use a canine sniff at the scene of a routine stop of a motor vehicle for a traffic violation.  There is hope, however, because the New Jersey Constitution provides for individual protections that go beyond those that the United States Constitution provides.

Imagine that the police have stopped your car for a routine speeding violation.  The police ask for your license, registration and insurance, but then they do something unexpected:  They have a drug sniffing dog smell the outside of your car.  There is no suggestion of anything illegal, other than a speeding violation.  It may seem absurd but it has happened.

Thanks to the recently decided case of Illinois v. Caballes, the United States Constitution now permits the police to take such an intrusive action.  The facts of the case are as follows.  In 1998, an Illinois State Trooper pulled over Caballes for speeding.  As the officer issued Caballes a warning, another officer arrived and led a drug-sniffing dog around Caballes’ car.  The dog alerted the officers to the trunk of Caballes’ car, in which they found over $250,000 worth of marijuana.  Caballes claims that using a “canine sniff” in the absence of a reasonable suspicion of illegal activity violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search.  The state trial court held the search reasonable and denied Caballes’ motion to suppress the drug evidence.  The appellate court affirmed.  The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, stating that “specific and articulable facts” are necessary to justify the use of a drug-sniffing dog. 

The United States Supreme Court reversed the Illinois Supreme Court, holding that the police don’t need anything beyond a legitimate motor vehicle violation to have a drug dog sniff your car.  The Caballes decision is certain to cause litigation in the New Jersey courts because the New Jersey Constitution gives the individual more protection than its federal counterpart.  This is a decision that New Jersey courts must severely limit. 

Howes & Howes is currently involved in a substantial case that may be directly affected by the Caballes decision.  If you have any questions regarding this issue, then please contact Howes & Howes.


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