Two people were arrested Friday at the Highway 86 checkpoint near Salton in Imperial County in separate incidents after a dog sniff led to complete searches of the vehicles. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents say that the first incident occurred around 4:50 p.m. Friday when a dog alerted to a car passing through the checkpoint. Authorities claim they discovered 27 pounds of cocaine in a hidden compartment of the vehicle. Agents claim the cocaine is worth roughly $880,000.
Nearly six hours later, a dog alerted to a separate vehicle. Agents claim that several non-factory compartments in the car concealed 42 packages containing 52 pounds of methamphetamine. Authorities estimate the street value of the meth to be $1.67 million.
Both drivers may be facing federal drug charges. Each of the drivers was turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration for further processing.
Dog sniffs in drug cases have received some renewed interest in certain situations. In January, this blog discussed a dog sniff case that the Supreme Court has accepted for review this term. That dog sniff case involved warrantless use of the dog outside a home.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that law enforcement can use dogs at any lawful traffic stop, even without any suspicion of criminal activity, as long as the dog-sniff does not unreasonably prolong the traffic stop.
The majority of the justices agreed that “the use of a well-trained narcotics-detection dog-one that “does not expose noncontraband items that otherwise would remain hidden from public view,” according to the Court’s written opinion.
One of the justices dissented from the majority in the 2005 case, known as Illinois v. Cabelles, saying that several studies show trained dogs are not infallible. A second justice said in her dissent that the Supreme previously held that a bus passenger had a reasonable expectation of privacy for a bag the traveler had placed in an overhead compartment and that an officer’s handling of the bag was constitutionally unreasonable.
She wonders how the majority would rule in similar circumstances if a dog were used on the bus instead of an officer grabbing the bag.
KXO Radio, “Checkpoint Yields $2.5 Million In Drugs,” Carroll Buckley, Feb. 28, 2012
United States Supreme Court, Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 2005