Their View

Police dogs infringe on freedom

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-2 last week that police can use dogs to search for illegal drugs during traffic stops without any probable cause for conducting the search.

Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the bench’s most acclaimed champions of civil liberties, defended the majority opinion stating that “A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment.” However, Stevens assumes that the dogs are perfectly accurate. Considering that police dogs fail about 30 percent of the time, it is statistically inevitable that people will have their privacy invaded and Fourth Amendment protections stripped unjustly.

To law enforcement officials, these incidents might be looked at as honest mistakes. To the individuals being stripped of their Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizures, however, these “honest mistakes” can be quite damaging.

Dissenting Justices Ruth Ginsburg and David Souter argued that the court’s decision could easily be used to justify searches of parked cars and pedestrians.

More problematic, though, is how this decision will affect the country’s continued struggle with racial profiling. In the past, pretextual traffic stops for the purpose of conducting searches have been disproportionately targeted at minorities. Drug-sniffing dogs will not be used in all traffic stops, and it is likely that this decision will result in more searches aimed at specific groups.

The government’s protection of an individual’s right to privacy is fundamental.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to restrict privacy in what appeared to be a clear fourth Amendment case is troubling. The narrow interpretation of privacy shown in the recent decision casts doubt on the Supreme Court’s willingness to continue to protect the privacy rights Americans currently enjoy.

The above editorial appeared in the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Michigan, on January 31, 2005 and was made available through KRTcampus.