Sunday, April 01, 2012

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?


At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You will probably delete my comments but here goes;

Police K-9's are good (well trained), amazing at times. What about the police dogs that track people? Did the handler give them some magical hint/signal to know which why to go? What about the cadaver dogs that find dead bodies or area's where dead bodies are found? Is in only that dogs/handlers sniffing drugs are bad but search dogs are good?

"Locals" being busted out of state are not transporting LSD! They are transporting WEED! Weed has a distinctive strong odor that is easily dectable. And Freddy when is the last time you drove across country on I-70 or I-80 ?

I think its great that California residents get arrested transporting weed across America. Humboldt people have become numb to weed, but it is still illegal and people in the mid west don't buy the medical MJ shit !

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Fred Mangels said...

Police dogs that track people aren't all that sharp, either, at least from stories I've read locally.

About the only time I recall a dog finding someone was when a suspect was in a house or other limited area. How could they not find someone in a house?

As far as cadaver dogs, I believe I've heard a number of instances where cadaver dogs either don't find a body, or give a false signal. I'm not saying they haven't found bodies, I just don't recall any news stories of them finding one.

I'm not sure if the cadaver dog was searching the right area, but you might remember the Curtis Huntzinger case- before his body was found. A dog was supposedly sent to find him in a spot someone claimed his body was. Again, don't know if that was the same area where his body was eventually found, but that dog didn't find him. A metal detector did.

As far as pot goes, fine, but dogs give false alerts on pot, too, or can get signals from their handler. They shouldn't be able to just signal on a car and that be probable cause to tear the whole car apart.

Let the dog go inside the car and signal where the pot is supposed to be. If the dog signals under a seat, for instance, and they pull up the seats and find nothing, it should be assumed to be a error on the dog's part and the search should be aborted. That doesn't mean they go from the seat to searching the glove box.

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pulled over on the I-40 going West, I was given a warning ticket for speeding. I was placed in their vehicle, while a dog and his handler circled my rental car, 4 times around one way, 4 the other. The dog was dissinterested. There was no "alert", just a dog basically asking "what am I looking for?" Is this probable cause? A bored dog that smells nothing?


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