In January 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision on the use of drug detection dogs during a lawful traffic stop. In a 6-2 decision, the Court held 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."
The above case revolved around Illinois State Trooper Daniel Gillette who stopped the respondent for speeding on an interstate highway. When Gillette radioed the police dispatcher to report the stop, a second trooper, Craig Graham, a member of the Illinois State Police Drug Interdiction team, overheard the transmission and immediately headed for the scene with his narcotics detection dog. When they arrived, the respondent's car was on the shoulder of the road and the respondent was in Gillett's vehicle. While Gillette was in the process of writing a warning ticket, Graham walked his dog around respondent's car. The dog alerted at the trunk and the officers performed a search and found a quantity of marijuana. The respondent was then arrested. The entire incident lasted less than 10 minutes.
At trial, the respondent was found guilty but appealed the decision to the Illinois Appellate Court on the basis that the "search" by the drug detection dog during a traffic stop violated his Constitutional rights. The Appellate Court affirmed the lower trial court decision however and the respondent then appealed to the Illinois State Supreme Court. The State Supreme Court reversed the decision, concluding that, because the canine sniff was performed without any 'specific and articulable facts' to suggest drug activity, the use of the dog unjustifiably enlarged the scope of a routine traffic stop into a drug investigation.
The State Supreme Court decision was in turn appealed to the highest Court in the country. After reviewing the facts of the case, The United States Supreme Court reversed the decision of the State Supreme Court and ruled that the use of the drug detection dog was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Writing for the majority, Justice Stevens stated the Supreme Court narrowly focused only on the issue of "[w]hether the Fourth Amendment requires reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify using a drug detection dog to sniff a vehicle during a legitimate traffic stop". In writing the majority decision Justice Stevens focused on several specific elements of the case to bolster the Court's decision, including the duration of the traffic stop, the character of the stop, the "alert" by the drug detection dog, and the lawfulness of the activity.
The Duration of the Traffic Stop
Although the United States Supreme Court noted that the traffic stop was found by the Illinois State Supreme Court to be concededly lawful, they also stated that "a seizure that is justified solely by the interest in writing a warning ticket to the driver can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete that mission." Citing United States v. Jacobsen (1984), the Court stated "a seizure that is lawful at its inception can violate the Fourth Amendment if its manner of execution unreasonably infringes interests protected by the Constitution." Given this statement, it is clear that the Court would be quick to condemn those actions where a dog sniff was conducted while a person was being unlawfully detained. As such, the point being made here is that the application of the dog to sniff the vehicle cannot prolong that time which would be necessary to complete the function of issuing a citation, warning, or notice of infraction.
The Character of the Stop
In its review of the case, the Illinois Supreme Court stated that the use of "the drug detection dog converted the lawful traffic stop to a drug investigation, and because the shift in scope was not supported by any reasonable suspicion, it was unlawful. …