The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, recently held in 2 cases that police officers may use drug-detecting canines to sniff a vehicle stopped for a routine traffic ticket. The court was sharply divided (4-3) and the majority qualified its decision by restricting it to circumstances where the cop suspects other criminal activity.
For civil libertarians, this is a troubling decision. In one case, the driver was pulled over for talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device and was unable to produce a license or registration. It seems a stretch that such conduct would warrant such an invasive search. Indeed, none of these charges is a crime, just a violation.
In the second case, an SUV was pulled over for failing to have a front plate, the driver was “fidgety” and his passenger told an “implausible” story about where they were going. Again, a missing front plate is not criminal so the decision is curious.
The three dissenting judges wrote that a “reasonable suspicion” that the vehicle contained drugs should be required before bringing in a canine.