The Nose Knows, or Does It?

Oct 29 2012 Published by under commentary

Court BuildingThe Supreme Court will be deciding whether the use of drug sniffing dogs by police constitutes unlawful search, possibly paving the way for “reasonable suspicion” AND “probable cause” (preferably in that order) to exist prior to the deployment of a canine asset for a scent search. In other words police would need to obtain a warrant under certain circumstances.

At present, a police officer can deploy his/her dog at their discretion, with, or without, probable cause. In fact, if you were to be pulled over by a helpful officer and they “asked” if they could search your car…

“Mind if I have a look inside your car?” You don’t have anything to hide do you? Is the inference.

In any case, should you refuse (and you should), the officer can then deploy their canine asset to “inspect” the vehicle, bag, or your person. If the dog alerts the officer to the possible presence of an illegal substance that is then grounds for a search (probable cause)… Sounds pretty great to police officers… but what about when the dog makes a mistake, or tries overly hard to please it’s handler or worse, and unethical handler who lies? Much of the legal president for the use of drug sniffing dogs was based on the presumption of the infallible nose of a dog. Let’s call it the infallible nose theory. However, no such dog exists as evidenced by common sense as well as empirical evidence:

“Most strikingly, the handlers were most likely to claim their dogs picked up a nonexistent scent when they saw a piece of red paper. The researchers concluded that handlers cue their dogs, deliberately or not, and this affects the animals’ accuracy.”

The traffic stop example used above could easily apply to a preliminary “scent search” of your home if an officer were to visit your front door with his canine asset in toe based on nothing more than “reasonable” suspicion or a “tip” as basis for stopping by, as in the case which is now coming before the Supreme Court.

This case has real ramifications however beyond the invasion of privacy to further the war on drugs, this could also affect how police deploy their assets to search for explosives in the very real world of international and local terrorism within U.S. borders.

I, for one, am a proponent of the idea that freedom isn’t free. In order to be free we must acknowledge that reasonable risks must be accepted in exchange for freedom. Soldiers sometimes sacrifice their lives to defend freedom but should any less be expected of civilians? Our brave men and women don’t march against our enemies to protect our freedom only to have it taken away by those within our own government. The end result is still the same (loss of freedom) the difference is in who takes it away. Freedom is not defended on the battlefield alone, it is defended in our court rooms, airports, living rooms, voting booths, and on the sides of our highways.

To alter our way of life and limit our personal liberty in the service of efficiency and toward nebulous ends is a grave mistake. We do not usually spend our hard-earned currency so thoughtlessly and yet the rarest and most precious commodity on our planet is personal liberty. So hard-won and so irreplaceable. Any exchange should be made only for the sake of the preservation of our national identity, the source of which emanates from a piece of paper written by those that knew the cost and more importantly, the value of freedom, the U.S. Constitution.

In other words any exchange should be short (never permanent) and only if not doing so would represent a very CLEAR and PRESENT danger to our national sovereignty (the war on drugs doesn’t fit the bill). The idea being that we don’t win the battles only to lose the war… Ultimately it is up to us to decide how much liberty we are willing to exchange for security. Tread carefully and act conservatively.


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