Essay: Law Enforcement

Pages: 7 (2489 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Business - Law  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Such is the case here.

All occupants of vehicles are considered seized under the Fourth Amendment, according to Brendlin v. California (2007, 551). This traffic stop became a bit more problematic when the officers ordered the occupants to show their hands, thus revealing an active suspicion of a possible danger to the officers. The order to show their hands though, would be consistent with the need of officers to ensure a minimal protective posture against harm during routine traffic stops as discussed in Knowles v. Iowa (1998, 525). Given this jurisprudence, it is unlikely that the officer's request would be found unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

The question of excessive privacy intrusions during a traffic stop was also examined in Knowles and the justices found that a search incident to an arrest is allowed for the purposes of officer safety and the preservation of evidence, but a search incident to the issuance of a citation, which the current case represents, violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. Since the traffic stop was executed based on traffic infractions, the officers had a right to act minimally to ensure their own safety, but not to search the occupants or the vehicle. However, when the occupants refused to show their hands, this created the possibility of increased danger for the officers and they responded accordingly and lawfully.

Requesting the occupants to exit the vehicle is standard police practice and considered an appropriate method for minimally ensuring officer safety during routine traffic stops (Knowles v. Iowa 1998, 525). Whether the smell of marijuana represents probable cause, varies considerably from state to state. At the federal level, the issue of whether the smell of marijuana represents probable cause for a warrantless search depends on the following criteria: (1) the officer is qualified to distinguish the odor of an illegal substance from other odors and the odor is sufficiently distinctive to allow such discrimination (Johnson v. United States 1948, 333).

Since the stop took place in Tennessee, another test applies. The Criminal Appeals Court in Knoxville recently addressed the issue of whether the smell of marijuana was sufficient probable cause to conduct a warrantless search during a routine traffic stop (Tennessee v. Brown 2005, 4). Based on prior decisions by the same court, if an officer in Tennessee detects a strong smell of marijuana a warrantless search is justified to prevent destruction of evidence (exigent circumstances). In Brown, the court again allowed the arresting officer to admit into evidence the marijuana seized in a search conducted during a routine traffic stop. Probable cause for this search was based on the officer detecting the smell of marijuana coming from the driver's open vehicle window. The court's decision reached in Brown suggests the marijuana smell need not be strong, but merely detectable and discernable. In light of these rulings, the officers in the current case probably had sufficient probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of both the occupants and the vehicle under Tennessee's probable cause jurisprudence.

In light of these Tennessee Criminal Appeals Court rulings, Detective Spy was probably not required to ask the occupants for permission to search the vehicle. Since he did ask permission, he was probably doing so because the marijuana smell was not strong, but weak. In response to the lack of permission to conduct the search, the officers called in the expert, a drug-sniffing dog they had with them.

The period of time that it took the officers to process the traffic stop and search the vehicle with the dog is important, since lengthy traffic stops are considered unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment (Knowles v. Iowa 1998, 525; Illinois v. Caballes 2005, 543). Having the drug-sniffing dog with them prevented the defendants from claiming the traffic stop was unreasonable, because the search was conducted within the time it took the officers to process the traffic citations.

The use of a drug-sniffing dog during routine traffic stops was recently reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Illinois v. Caballes (2005, 543). Based on their reasoning, the search in Caballes was not unreasonable because the traffic stop and search only took 10 minutes. During this time frame, another officer had been listening to the events over the radio as they were occurring and raced over to the location to allow the dog to search the car for evidence of drugs. The Court decided to grant certiorari under a very narrow review, in part because the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Caballes search was unconstitutional in the absence of suspicion or probable cause that the driver was about to, or had, engaged in criminal drug use. Since this was a routine traffic stop, this decision is consistent with the Court's reasoning in Knowles that a search incident to a traffic citation violates the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

In deciding Caballes, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the search did not violate any expectation of privacy because the dog walked around the exterior of the vehicle. To clarify their reasoning in Caballes, Justice Stevens, writing the majority opinion of the Court, compared their decision with the one they made in Kyllo v. United States (2001, 533). In Kyllo, the Court held that an infrared imaging system designed to detect the growing of marijuana plants in private homes violated privacy expectations under the Fourth Amendment because it was also capable of detecting lawful, intimate activity. By comparison, a drug sniffing dog cannot reveal anything about the interior of the vehicle except the presence of illegal drugs. For this reason, the U.S. Supreme Court majority overruled the Illinois Supreme Court's decision by holding the that search was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Given the Court's ruling in Caballes, the search of the vehicle by Detective Spy and the dog would be likely be upheld if challenged as unreasonable and an invasion of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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