Arkansas Uses “Sniffer” Alcohol Test; ACLU Objects

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The next time an Arkansas state trooper stops a vehicle and points a flashlight inside, he may be doing more than illuminating the interior. He could be testing the air inside for proof that the driver has been drinking alcohol, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

The motorist would not even know it, which is causing some civil liberties advocates to question whether the practice violates the constitutional right against “unreasonable searches.” Now 118 of the 320 state troopers are carrying “The Sniffer” flashlight, which conceals a “passive alcohol sensor” and alerts officers to alcohol in the air inside a vehicle. A row of tiny lights on the device will glow green, yellow or red depending on the amount alcohol detected. Officers can use that information as probable cause to conduct more field sobriety tests and make arrests.

Troopers have been carrying the $683 illuminators – paid for with a federal grant – for almost three months. At least a couple dozen arrests have been made after The Sniffer picked up traces of alcohol. The law enforcement agency is among hundreds in more than 40 states that use the technology, said Jarel Kelsey of PAS Systems International of Fredericksburg, Va., which markets the flashlights.

“They're always coming up with something to push the limits of the Fourth Amendment,” said Rita Sklar of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arkansas. “You should know what kind of search you are undergoing. That seems to me the American thing to do.”


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