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MADISON - The Wisconsin Supreme Court today held in State v. Arias that a dog sniff of the air space surrounding a vehicle in a public place is not a search within the meaning of the Wisconsin Constitution. In doing so, the Court was consistent with the United States Supreme Court holding in Illinois v. Caballes that a dog sniff of the exterior of a vehicle is not a search within the meaning of the United States Constitution. The case has been remanded to the Clark County Circuit Court for further proceedings.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen applauded the decision. "This is an excellent decision for Wisconsin law enforcement in fighting drug trafficking in our state," said Van Hollen. "Dogs have been a valuable, efficient, and safe tool in detecting narcotics, and this holding allows their reasonable use to continue."
The Supreme Court also held that the 78 seconds needed to accommodate the dog sniff did not unreasonably extend the traffic stop. The Court reasoned that the very short time period involved with the dog sniff and the minimal intrusion it caused were outweighed by the public interest in curtailing the flow of narcotics.
"I am pleased to represent the interests of Wisconsin before the Supreme Court in this important law enforcement matter," Van Hollen said. "This ruling reaffirms the use of prudent police and investigative methods, correctly balancing our interests in fighting drugs with the preservation of our individual rights to be secure from unlawful intrusions," Van Hollen said.
Arias was charged with one count of carrying a concealed weapon, one count of illegal possession of a switchblade knife, and one count of possession with intent to deliver cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school zone. After a preliminary hearing, the Clark County Circuit Court suppressed from evidence the weapon and the drugs obtained pursuant to the search conducted following the police dog's sniff of the exterior of the vehicle. The State, through Attorney General Van Hollen's Department of Justice, appealed the order suppressing the evidence and the court of appeals certified to the Supreme Court the two issues decided today in the State's favor. A copy of today's decision can be found at http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=33358.
The case has been remanded to the Clark County Circuit Court for further proceedings. Arias has not been convicted of the charges and is presumed innocent. The state bears the burden of proving its charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Clark County District Attorney's Office represented the State in the circuit court. Assistant Attorney General David Perlman of the Wisconsin Department of Justice represented the State before the Supreme Court.