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Fourth Amendment Troubles

It’s OK to violate privacy rights, as long as it’s just a little bit:

The Supreme Court gave police broader search powers Monday during traffic stops, ruling that drug-sniffing dogs can be used to check out motorists even if officers have no reason to suspect they may be carrying narcotics.

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

I imagine most people pulled over are a bit nervous. I usually am since I’m typically pondering whether or not I’m going to get a ticket.

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

Of course, the courts have also ruled that the fourth amendment is invalid due to indoor plumbing and it’s invalid as long as everybody is stopped at a roadblock. So, why do we have the fourth amendment again? I mean, I’m just asking since it seems like we don’t really use it.

14 Responses to “Fourth Amendment Troubles”

  1. SayUncle : Gee, wonder why? Says:

    […] tes’ rights is a racist codeword by the way, and that makes me a racist). Continued killing the fourth amendment. Just repeal it already. Ignored guns by r […]

  2. Xrlq Says:

    Lest we miss the forest for the trees, be reminded that by its terms, the Fourth Amendment does not confer a general right to privacy, nor does it purport to ban all searches and seizures, only “unreasonable” ones. Any veteran cop worth his salt can tell the difference between the typical “oh, crap, I might have to sit through a day of traffic school to keep my insurance rates down” nervousness and the relatively atypical “Oh, crap, I hope to God he doesn’t search my car and find the loot” variety. Somehow, the cop knew to search this guy, and not the 1,000 other nervous speeders before him. If not, let them be the ones to sue – unless, of course, your position is that the Fourth Amendment is there to protect the guilty, not to protect the privacy of the innocent.

  3. SayUncle Says:

    Actually, Xrlqy Wrlqy, I’d say such a search would be as likely to be standard operating procedure rather than one guy out of 1,000 being unlucky. When the searches like this become standard, it does go against the fourth. Besides, an officer’s hunch isn’t exactly objective evidence.

    The fourth also has a provision for warrants and I doubt this guy got one.

    And by privacy, i was referring to this definition:

    “The state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion”

    Not the one that has been used to say abortion is OK, which oddly isn’t a definition offered at

  4. robert Says:

    Every canary, dead as a door nail.

    Anyone who thinks the Supremes will protect gun rights because of the Second Amendment is nuts.

  5. Xrlq Says:

    I agree it would be unreasonable to search the car of every driver who appeared nervous, which is most of them. I just don’t believe for a minute that the cop is doing that, else he’d be an easy target for a lawsuit by the 9,999 innocent guys (or more, perhaps, if you assume a fact not in evidence and claim the cop acted only on a hunch).

    The warrant provision is irrelevant to this discussion. We’re talking about the rules on warrantless searches, not the rules for issuing warrants.

  6. SayUncle Says:

    I don’t think the cop, for example, did 9,999 times but I’d say it’s fair to assume he did some number between 1 and 9,999. That said, the people who were questionably searched were likely sent on their merry little way, maybe even without a ticket. Why would they sue?

  7. Xrlq Says:

    For invasion of privacy. If a cop searched my car without reason, I’d sue him, or at least seriously consider it. Wouldn’t you?

  8. SayUncle Says:

    Yes, but we’re not most people. And, IIRC, i can’t sue ‘him’ but i can sue the PD or gov’t entity he works for.

    It also depends on how you define search. I think asking a dog to sniff is a search. This guy did that without reason (and ‘looking’ guilty isn’t a valid reason).

  9. Publicola Says:

    I was detained once by SC’s finest. A traffic stop, cop said I didn’t use a signal to jump onto a divided highway – which may have been correct (it was early & I don’t recall if I did or not). He gave me a warning ticket then showed me the consent to search form. After some arguing he said if I didn’t sign my car would be impounded for up to 2 days while they searched it. Bottom line was I signed, he searched, he found nothing, I wrote letters to his bosses, they claimed to have a hearing bu refused to tell me the results.

    This happened a long time ago (hence my signing the consent form) but I really don’t think the practice was changed cause I raised hell about it.

    All that is to say that cops do tap dance on the Rights of people who are innocent, but since most people are A: innocent & B: unaware of how to properly complain after the fact it goes unreported & the cops get away with it.

    Now I’m aware of the court’s interpretation of the 4th, but looking at the text (you remember the text don’t ya?) I see no provision for warrantless searches. IMNSHO in all but the rarest of circumstances, where it is plausibly believed that a life (as opposed to a conviction record) is in jeapordy, cops should not be permitted to search anyone sans warrant obtained according to the 4th amendment’s guidelines.

    But I can’t say I’m surprised at this decision. I disagree with it most assuredly, but it doesn’t shock me that SCOTUS would screw us like this.

  10. tgirsch Says:

    Uncle’s objection seems to hinge on this sentence:

    Although Caballes lawfully produced his driverís license, troopers brought over a drug dog after Caballes seemed nervous.

    But that’s only objectionable if “seeming nervous” is really all that was there. I haven’t read the ruling, or the details in the case, but I suspect that “seemed nervous” is AP shorthand for a lot more detail.

    The ruling may be wrong, and it may be right, but we don’t have enough information in the linked source to tell us one way or the other. “Probably cause” has certainly had its abuses, but the officer in question may very well have had sufficient probable cause under whatever laws were in effect in Illinois in 1998.

  11. Xrlq Says:

    I still haven’t read the bcase, but after reading Orin Kerr’s piece it sounds like the nervousness was irrelevant; the case hinged on whether allowing a dog to sniff the outside of a car constituted a “search.”

    Publicola: of course there’s no explicit provision for warrantless searches. There’s no explicit provision for warranted ones, either. The Fourth Amendment is not an enabling statute.

  12. The View From North Central Idaho Says:

    So why do we have the 4th amendment?

  13. The View From North Central Idaho Says:

    So why do we have the 4th amendment?

  14. The Open Society Paradox Says:

    The Fourth Amendment is Alive and Well
    The blogosphere is buzzing with activity about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in the case of United States v Place. In this ruling, the justices by a 6-2 majority ruled that a dog sniff of a car is not a Fourth…