Traffic Stops, Drug Dogs and Probable Cause
Radley Balko has a nice piece up on the Huffington Post about a traffic stop that results in what should be an illegal search. I feel safe in saying this same sort of thing probably happens hundreds, if not thousands, of times a day in this country.
In this incident the out- of- state driver is pulled over for one of those catch all reasons: crossing the yellow line a few times. The officer seems about to let him go but then questions him. After a minute or so he comes up with the all too predictable, "Do you mind if I search your car?". After the driver refuses the search, the officer uses his dog to fabricate cause for a search.
A couple things make my blood boil over this sort of thing:
First, the idea that so many cops ask to search people's cars for no particular reason. It's as if they figure, "Why not? All they can do is say no". They shouldn't be asking to search vehicles unless they have probable cause to begin with.
Second, the courts really need to lower the level of faith given to drug dogs. I'm reading more and more about how dogs can read signals and feelings from their handlers that encourage dogs to give the response the handler wants.
If nothing else, it seems to me totally out of line that a drug dog can alert on a car thus giving police probable cause to go through the whole car. If the dog alerts on a car- as I've written before- that dog should go inside the car and find the supposed drugs. The police shouldn't be able to search everything in the car because a dog alerts.
If he's so good at what he does, he should be able to pinpoint the drug location immediately. If he can't, it's a false alert and the search should be aborted.
I often don't have the time or desire to watch videos that accompany news stories. In this case I'm glad I did as the driver of the car put together a nice account of the incident. He even includes some footage of drug dog training with false alerts. Some of you may enjoy the slightly over 17 minute video. About the only downside is the voices are a little hard to hear during the traffic stop.
The bottom line is the courts really need to reclassify the validity of probable cause they give to drug dog alerts.
Addendum: As an aside, this sort of thing makes me wonder about all the locals we've heard about getting busted, especially out of state, for transporting dope? They're usually stopped by police for some traffic infraction. I know I'm not the only one who thinks "How could they be so stupid to be speeding while carrying a bunch of pot?".
Maybe they weren't?