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Illinois Supreme Court Case Gets Smell Test

By Prescott Carlson in News on Sep 29, 2009 5:20PM

Photo by Dan Shouse
The Daily Herald recently took a look at a case being reviewed by the Illinois Supreme Court that has people bristling about soon finding their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights violated. The issue at hand? Whether or not the smells in your car amount to personal property and are therefore protected against unreasonable search and seizures.

The case started over three years ago when Cheryl Bartelt of Quincy, Illinois, was charged with possession of methamphetamines. Police Officer Mike Tyler had staked out Bartelt's pickup truck for 90 minutes as it was parked illegally on the sidewalk. When Bartelt drove off, Tyler pulled her over for the parking violation. Tyler had heard Bartelt was a methamphetamine user, so a drug sniffing dog was called in, and that's where it gets interesting.

No illegal substances were readily visible in the truck, so there was no immediate probable cause for the dog to enter the vehicle. Instead, another officer ordered Bartelt to roll up her windows and turn the A/C all the way up. As the air from inside the car circulated outside, the dog was then able to pick up a scent and "alert" at both doors. The officers then used this indication as cause to search Bartelt's truck where they say they found drug residue and paraphernalia.

Bartelt's attorney argued that the officers had no probable cause and moved to suppress evidence from the search, and the lower court agreed. But this ruling was reversed on appeal, and the case has now made it up to the Illinois Supreme Court. Civil rights watchdogs are keeping a close eye on the case, and law professor Timothy O'Neill said in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin that the case represents an "erosion" and a "chipping away of Fourth Amendment rights in Illinois."