Is Your Dog 'Contraband'?
An awful ruling for pet owners has come from a federal court, in a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh. But the threat is not just to Fido and Fluffy, because, as anyone familiar with how precedent becomes corrupted knows, the ruling will be cited and abused far beyond its original, flawed bases.
C.J. Ciaramella writes about this ruling at Reason Magazine, in “Federal Judge Rules Unlicensed Dogs Aren't Protected By Fourth Amendment.” In deciding an unlicensed dog is “contraband” not protected by the Fourth Amendment, the ruling confuses government “licenses” with “title,” i.e., private ownership and possession. The ruling will eventually be cited in cases involving property other than dogs and other unlicensed activity in our overly license-happy statist society.
The crocodile tears shed by the judge for dog owners, however, will be particularly disdained. Quoting the judge’s written opinion Ciaramella writes:
"The Court is aware that this conclusion may not sit well with dog owners and animal lovers in general," the judge wrote. "The reason for any unease stems from the fact that while pet owners consider their pets to be family members, the law considers pets to be property."
"The requirements of the Michigan Dog Law and the Detroit City Code, including that all dogs be current with their rabies vaccines, exist to safeguard the public from dangerous animals," he continued. "When a person owns a dog that is unlicensed, in the eyes of the law it is no different than owning any other type of illegal property or contraband. Without any legitimate possessory interest in the dogs, there can be no violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Yes, dogs and other pets are loved by adults and their children often far more than other property. And, there are systems for adjudicating fines for unlicensed pets. But for the state to assert lesser constitutional protections for owned but unlicensed property as “contraband” is dangerous from a Fourth Amendment perspective. The Writs of Assistance targeting contraband helped foment the American Revolution. The Fourth Amendment was written after our colonial experience with such violations of individual liberty and property rights even when contraband was the express target of the searches.
But this judge is clueless about the fear and rage he is creating among pet owners and the concomitant danger for police. Pet owners, fearful of what police may do to their “property” that affectionately welcomes them home each day after work as if their owners had just won the Super Bowl and a Nobel Peace Prize, or cuddle and even sleep beside them, may become more aggressive about protecting their pets. This judge therefore has made life for police more dangerous in addition to his flawed constitutional analysis with potentially larger implications. He sits protected in his court by armed security and metal detectors while contributing to animus directed at police who work on the front lines.
There is a healthy and sensible balance when we cut through unconstitutional law and order versus the excessive political correctness or just-plain hatred for the police. The Anglo-American system of law and order we inherited from the common law was designed to protect the security of the community while safeguarding individual liberties. Like any human institution, it has flaws in its execution, but its emphasis on protection of individual liberty provides safeguards against most abuses.
The safety of the community and the police would be enhanced if more political leaders and judges articulated the “old rules.” When police ask or tell you to do something, do it. If the officer is intentionally in the wrong, the judicial system should punish him or her. The good cops deserve this because they are the ones dealing with murderers, thieves, and other miscreants on our behalf.
Enter the not-politically correct President Donald Trump, who was lambasted for ethnic and other insensitivity in his comments about how police treat murder suspects being put into “paddy wagons.” Jack Dunphy (a “pseudonym of a police officer in Southern California” according to PJ Media), in his wonderful, must-read explanation of The Real Reason Why America's Cops Cheered President Trump's Brentwood Speech notes:
For years, America’s police officers watched as the racial grievance industry, aided by credulous reporters and pandering politicians – Mr. Obama most of all – did their best to persuade the country that the police were responsible for all that ails America’s cities, and that all would be just fine if only the cops could tame their “implicit biases” and be a little nicer.
Officer Dunphy writes about the “old rules” as:
...an unwritten code that governed behavior on both sides of the law: When the cops caught you dirty, you went to jail like a gentleman and didn’t fight, run, or make a fuss about it. The other side of this bargain dictated that police officers not abuse, either physically or verbally, anyone who observed the code.
This was a code that benefitted all involved parties. For the lawbreaker, it meant a trouble-free transition into the justice system, without the injuries and added charges that would arise from resisting arrest. And it made for fewer injuries among the cops as well, not to mention fewer torn uniforms and less paperwork for their sergeants. (Sergeants loathe paperwork, and they treat accordingly any subordinate who generates more than his share.)
American police are under dangerous and disgraceful assault by radical leftwing anarchy forces. Police assassins and lawsuits have created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation about doing police work in communities. This is not only dangerous for the police who risks their lives on a daily basis to protect us, it weakens our safety; it is contemptuous of their families.
Unfortunately, too many American judges, prosecutors, and politicians are contributing to the problem. Even good and well-intentioned officials such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions hurt police in their support for policies such as civil asset forfeiture. These policies give fodder to the anti-police radicals, but they also make sane, pro-law enforcement constitutional conservatives concerned about “position[ing] police as part of lawbreaking, thieving government instead of friends to the security of our communities.”
America may have the worst ruling class in its history, and Donald Trump knows that. Our police need support, and not judicial decisions or political policies that raise the temperature among ordinary citizens.