Manufacturing Probable Cause

The March 2013 edition of Reason magazine contains a disturbing article by Jacob Sullum on the use of drug dogs. From the article, numerous studies show drug dogs turn up false-positives for drug searches over 50% of the time. Yet cops use these “alerts” to establish probable cause to conduct warrantless searches of vehicles, or in one case, to obtain a search warrant on a home. In that particular case, which was recently argued before the Supreme Court (still awaiting a decision as of this writing), the actions taken to obtain the search warrant could justifiably be ruled as a warrantless search itself.

For sure, these searches will often hit pay dirt (see Florida v Harris, another Supreme Court case referenced in the Sullum article). But they will also often subject innocent people to degradation, harassment, and intimidation. As the article notes, police departments usually share in the proceeds of forfeitures that come from these searches. Forfeitures turn the whole “innocent until proven guilty” idea on its head. With such powerful incentives at play, should we really allow blind faith to replace the checks and balances that are SUPPOSED to be cornerstones of our system of government?

**UPDATE 2/19/13: The Supreme Court rules in Florida v. Harris: a “positive alert” from a dog sniff provides probable cause to search a vehicle without a warrant. The article quotes defense attorney Jeff Weiner, stating law enforcement now has a “a green light to do away with the Fourth Amendment merely by uttering the magic words, ‘My dog alerted.'”

**UPDATE 3/26/13: The Court ruled police cannot bring a dog up to a home to sniff for drugs without a warrant. So by the Court’s logic, homes are sacred, but automobiles have a 4th Amendment loophole.


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One Response to “Manufacturing Probable Cause”

  1. The Grey Enigma Says:

    Reblogged this on The Grey Enigma.

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