Imagine that a police officer, after taking it upon himself to search someone's car, is asked to explain why he thought he would find contraband there. "A little birdie told me," he replies. Most judges, suggests Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, would react with appropriate skepticism to such a claim. But substitute "a big dog" for "a little birdie," and you've got probable cause.
Or so says the U.S. Supreme Court, which last week unanimously ruled that "a court can presume" a search is valid if police say it was based on an alert by a dog trained to detect drugs. Sullum says the Court thereby encouraged judges to accept self-interested proclamations about a canine's capabilities, reinforcing the alarmingly common use of dogs to justify invasions of privacy.