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Searches and Seizures: Tools and Augmentation

Law enforcement often uses tools and augmentation devices to help conducting searches, such as flashlights, microphones, binoculars and detection dogs. This category deals with constitutionality of using various tools and augmentation devices during a search.

Court Opinions on the Topic:

United States v. Jacobsen Et Al. (1984)
United States v. Karo Et Al. (1984)
Kyllo v. United States (2001)
Illinois v. Caballes (2005)


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A chemical test that merely discloses whether or not a particular substance is cocaine does not compromise any legitimate interest in privacy. This conclusion is not dependent on the result of any particular test. It is probably safe to assume that virtually all of the tests conducted under circumstances comparable to those disclosed by this record would result in a positive finding; in such cases, no legitimate interest has been compromised. But even if the results are negative -- merely disclosing that the substance is something other than cocaine -- such a result reveals nothing of special interest. Congress has decided -- and there is no question about its power to do so -- to treat the interest in "privately" possessing cocaine as illegitimate; thus governmental conduct that can reveal whether a substance is cocaine, and no other arguably "private" fact, compromises no legitimate privacy interest.

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United States v. Jacobsen Et Al. (1984)
The Honorable Justice BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, dissenting:
[Since the Court has made it explicit in this opinion that] individuals in our society have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the fact that they have contraband in their possession, the Court adopts a general rule that a surveillance technique does not constitute a search if it reveals only whether or not an individual possesses contraband.

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United States v. Jacobsen Et Al. (1984)
The Honorable Justice BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, dissenting:
For example, under the Court's analysis in these cases, law enforcement officers could release a trained cocaine-sensitive dog -- to paraphrase the California Court of Appeal, a "canine cocaine connoisseur" -- to roam the streets at random, alerting the officers to people carrying cocaine. Cf. People v. Evans, 65 Cal. App. 3d 924, 932, 134 Cal. Rptr. 436, 440 (1977). Or, if a device were developed that, when aimed at a person, would detect instantaneously whether the person is carrying cocaine, there would be no Fourth Amendment bar, under the Court's approach, to the police setting up such a device on a street corner and scanning all passersby. In fact, the Court's analysis is so unbounded that if a device were developed that could detect, from the outside of a building, the presence of cocaine inside, there would be no constitutional obstacle to the police cruising through a residential neighborhood and using the device to identify all homes in which the drug is present. In short, under the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment [...] first applied in this case, these surveillance techniques would not constitute searches and therefore could be freely pursued whenever and wherever law enforcement officers desire. Hence, at some point in the future, if the Court stands by the theory it has adopted today, search warrants, probable cause, and even "reasonable suspicion" may very well become notions of the past.

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United States v. Jacobsen Et Al. (1984)
The Honorable Justice BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, dissenting:
In this case, the chemical field test was used to determine whether certain white powder was cocaine. Upon visual inspection of the powder in isolation, one could not identify it as cocaine. In the abstract, therefore, it is possible that an individual could keep the powder in such a way as to preserve a reasonable expectation of privacy in its identity. For instance, it might be kept in a transparent pharmaceutical vial and disguised as legitimate medicine. Under those circumstances, the use of a chemical field test would constitute a search. However, in this case, as hypothesized above, the context in which the powder was found could not support a reasonable expectation of privacy. In particular, the substance was found in four plastic bags, which had been inside a tube wrapped with tape and sent to respondents via Federal Express. It was essentially inconceivable that a legal substance would be packaged in this manner for transport by a common carrier. Thus, viewing the powder as they did at the offices of Federal Express, the DEA agent could identify it with "virtual certainty"; it was essentially as though the chemical identity of the powder was plainly visible. See Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S., at 751 (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment). Under these circumstances, therefore, respondents had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the identity of the powder, and the use of the chemical field test did not constitute a "search" violative of the Fourth Amendment.

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United States v. Karo Et Al. (1984)
The Honorable Justice STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, concurring in part and dissenting in part:
...[B]y attaching a monitoring device to respondents' property, the agents usurped a part of a citizen's property -- in this case a part of respondents' exclusionary rights in their tangible personal property. By attaching the beeper and using the container to conceal it, the Government in the most fundamental sense was asserting "dominion and control" over the property -- the power to use the property for its own purposes. And "dominion and control" is a "seizure" in the most basic sense of the term.

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