Supreme Court Cases 2004-2005 Term

The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, December 2005 | Go to article overview
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Supreme Court Cases 2004-2005 Term


The 2004-2005 U.S. Supreme Court term included several cases addressing a variety of constitutional criminal procedural issues and employment-related matters of interest to the law enforcement community. One case addressed the extent to which the Constitution recognizes the ability of law enforcement to use canine detection, ruling on whether the Constitution requires articulable and specific facts indicating criminal activity to use a canine. Also before the Supreme Court was a case involving the extent to which law enforcement may exercise authority over occupants of a residence for which the officers have a search warrant to search. In two other cases, the Supreme Court ruled on whether the federal statute criminalizing conspiracy to launder money requires proof of an overt act and the extent to which a defendant can be visibly shackled during the penalty phase of a trial. Regarding employment matters, the Court provided further guidance on the extent to which speech engaged in by a government employee is protected under the First Amendment and also ruled on an issue arising under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. A brief synopsis of each of these cases follows.

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Illinois v. Caballes, 125 S. Ct. 843 (2005)

The Supreme Court held that a dog sniff of the exterior of an automobile conducted during the course of a lawful vehicle stop is not a search and may be performed without any suspicion that the vehicle's occupants are engaged in criminal activity. In so holding, the Court distinguished Kyllo v. United States, (1) in which it held that the use of thermal imaging to detect a detail of the interior of a home not otherwise knowable was a search.

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In Caballes, an Illinois state trooper stopped Roy I. Caballes for speeding and while radioing in to dispatch, a second trooper overheard the transmission and drove to the scene with his narcotics-detection dog. While the first trooper was writing Caballes a warning ticket, the second trooper walked the dog around the vehicle. When the dog alerted to the trunk, both officers searched it and found marijuana. Caballes was then arrested and later convicted on drug charges. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the drug conviction, finding that because there was no specific and articulable facts to suggest drug activity, use of the dog sniff unjustifiably enlarged a routine traffic stop into a drug investigation. (2)

In reversing the Illinois Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the arrival of another officer at the scene while the traffic stop was in progress and the use of the narcotics-detection dog to sniff around the exterior did not itself constitute any additional infringement on Fourth Amendment rights that would have to be supported by a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity unrelated to the stop. (3) Recognizing that a seizure that is lawful at its inception can violate the Fourth Amendment if its manner of execution is unreasonable, the Supreme Court held that in this case, the traffic stop was not extended beyond the time necessary to issue a warning ticket. The outcome would be different if the dog sniff was conducted during an unlawful detention, not because of the constitutionality of the search, but rather due to the unreasonableness of the seizure.

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The Court cited United States v. Place (4) to support its conclusion that the dog sniff itself was not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment because the use of a well-trained dog "does not expose noncontraband items that otherwise would remain hidden from public view." (5) Because it can reveal only the existence of an illegal substance, a dog sniff does not intrude into any legitimate expectation of privacy. Distinguishing this case from Kyllo v. United States the Court stated (6)

    This conclusion is entirely consistent with our recent decision that
    the use of a thermal-imaging device to detect the growth of
    marijuana in a home constituted an unlawful search . 

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