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January 25, 2005 - The Advertiser (LA)

ACLU: People Can Be Safe And Still Free

Representative Concerned By Supreme Court Ruling On Drug-Sniffing Dogs

By Jason Brown

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A Supreme Court ruling Monday gave police more freedom to use drug-sniffing dogs during traffic stops - even without probable cause.

In a 6-2 decision, the court sided with Illinois police who stopped Roy Caballes in 1998 along Interstate 80 for driving six miles over the speed limit. Although Caballes lawfully produced his driver's license, troopers brought over a drug dog after Caballes seemed nervous.

Caballes argued the Fourth Amendment protects motorists from searches such as dog sniffing, but Justice John Paul Stevens disagreed saying the privacy intrusion was minimal.

This finding troubled Joe Cook, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.

"The war on drugs has become a war on our civil liberties," Cook said.

Cook also cited the Fourth Amendment as being our protection against unlawful searches and seizures without probable cause, and he said he believes that this new ruling is in direct violation of that.

"So, that being the case, the ACLU would be opposed to any weakening of that standard," he said.

Local law enforcement, while in favor of the ruling, said they didn't see it effecting the way they conduct police procedures, however.

"We've always based our searches on probable cause," said Cpl. Mark Francis, spokesman for the Lafayette Police Department. Francis said he doesn't see that changing. "Our actions will always be based on probable cause."

Francis said when and if a dog was brought out and scored a "hit" - a positive detection of illegal drugs - then a more thorough search was given, but the dog was never used unless an officer had a reason to.

Willie Williams, public information officer for the Louisiana State Police Troop I, had not heard of the ruling but was pleased with it.

"I'm happy to hear that the Supreme Court made that decision," he said, because he said he can see how it's only going to help police efforts to combat drug offenders in the future, but, "We're going to continue what we've been doing."

Williams said his troop has had tremendous success in the past, including a Sunday night drug bust that netted 32 pounds of marijuana worth about $32,000 on the streets.

A K-9 was used in the arrest after troopers spoke with both the driver and the passenger and determined their stories did not match up, according to a report issued by state police. Troopers called their K-9 "Tasso" to the scene and the dog gave a positive detection of drugs, the report said.

After troopers conducted a search, they located the drugs and arrested two Houston men, Gustavo Ramos, 27, and Brittany Mason, 19.

Nevertheless, Cook said the ruling is cause for concern.

Cook said the mark of a free and democratic society is that our government will respect our individual rights and freedoms.

"I think the people should be concerned about this," Cook said. "What we have to remember is that we can be both safe and free in this country and if we sacrifice our freedoms for the illusion of safety and security, then we are headed down a dead end street as far as our civil liberties are concerned."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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