Drug Sniffing Dogs

Interesting article in the Tribune today detailing how drug sniffing dogs are not always correct in alerting for drugs on a traffic stop. See http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-canine-officers-20110105,0,6649157,full.story

This is certainly an alarming problem because the Supreme Court has stated that the police can have a drug sniffing dog sniff the outside of a car on a traffic stop without probable cause. They have concluded that such activity is not a search and is therefore not protected by the 4th amendment.

The article also states that according to their statistics, the amount of false alerts for drugs by these dogs is even worse for Hispanic drivers. A lot of this is due to there being no certification requirements for either the dog or the dog handler. Often times the handler, if he is so inclined, can cause the dog to alert. Thus, the handler is passing his biases on to the dog. It then just becomes another example of police racially profiling drivers.

This is a huge problem because there appears to be many innocent people being subjected to intrusive and embarrassing searches when there are not in fact drugs in the car. This can also come into play in a felony or misdemeanor criminal case where the dog falsely alerts drugs, but then an actual search of the car does not reveal any drugs but instead reveals a gun, or an open bottle of liquor, or gives the officer reason to start questioning the driving about a possible DUI. The courts would find such searches constitutional because of the dog’s alert even though no drugs were ultimately found.

The Illinois General Assembly should pass some standards or certification requirements to drug sniffing dogs and their handlers to alleviate this problem.

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