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Supreme Court ruling could compromise civil rights

When state troopers found 32 kilos of marijuana during a routine traffic stop in Illinois last November, they most likely did not foresee the waves the case would make. But since a drug-sniffing dog was brought onto the scene and was used without a warrant or apparent signs that drugs were present, the case ended up before the federal Supreme Court. The final ruling, passed in January, determined that the use of the drug-sniffing dog had been permissible.

Civil rights groups continue to battle the controversial decision to this day, as it leads to an infringement of civil rights even for the average citizen who has no ambition to traffic drugs.

According to the Supreme Court ruling papers, an Illinois state trooper stopped Roy Caballes for speeding, radioed the dispatcher to inform his superiors of the routine traffic stop and wrote a citation for the speeding violation. A second officer overheard the radio transmission, brought a drug-sniffing dog to the location where the car had been stopped, and led the dog around Caballes’s car while the citation was being written. The dog “alerted” at the trunk, and after a search Caballes was arrested for possession of marijuana.

The incident, from stop to arrest, lasted about 10 minutes. Caballes was later sentenced to 12 years in prison and a $256,136 fine, sending the case through the entire U. S. legal system to determine whether the search of his private property without a warrant had been a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Court came to a 6-2 decision, ruling the search permissible.

Justice David Souter, one of the two judges who dissented from the final decision, rightly stated the search had the potential to reveal “intimate details” even though there had not been any “just cause.” This would constitute a violation of Caballes’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Justice Souter’s assessment is correct, as the Court’s decision creates a precedent that has the potential to erode civil rights by allowing searches without a warrant and just cause.

When one of the founding pillars of our society, the Constitution, is concerned it is rather troublesome when the nations highest court condones “frontier justice” in such a way.

While civil rights groups likely face an uphill battle — at least in this case as it is closed — their action is not only commendable, it is needed to bring it to the attention of the public that such clear violations of civil rights cannot be allowed to stand.