Minnesota v. Dickerson

Minnesota v. Dickerson Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
508 U.S. 366 (1993)

ISSUE: Does the 4th Amdt. permit the seizure of contraband detected through a police officer's sense of touch during a protective patdown if the incriminating character of the contraband was not immediately apparent?
HOLDING: No.
FACTS:
  • Police observed D leave a known crack house and take evasive actions when he noticed the police
  • The police decided to perform an investigate stop so they seized him in an alley
  • After finding no weapons, the officer felt a small lump in D's front pocket, retrieved the bag, and found it contained cocaine
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • Trial Ct. analogizes the search to a PVD search and denied suppression
  • Ct. App. reversed and Mich. Sup. Ct. affirmed
RULES:
  • Terry v. Ohio: When an officer is justified in believing that the individual whose suspicious behavior he is investigating at close range is armed and presently dangerous to the officer or others, the officer may conduct a patdown search to determine whether the person in fact is carrying a weapon
    • If the search goes beyond that, it's not valid
  • Plain view doctrine: If police are lawfully in a position from which they view an object and if its incriminating character is immediately apparent and the police have a lawful right to access the object, they may seize it without a warrant
REASONING:
  • PVD justifies seizure during Terry stop: If a police officer lawfully pats down a suspect's outer clothing and feels an object whose contour or mass makes its identity immediately apparent, there has been no additional invasion of the suspect's privacy and a warrantless seizure is justified
  • Search here unreasonable: It's clear that the officer went beyond the permissible scope of a Terry stop since the incriminating character of the contraband was not immediately apparent to him and he had already concluded that there were no weapons on D's person
COMMENTS:
  • Dickerson announces the scope of a Terry patdown in somewhat of a backward way: by incorporating the idea behind the Plain View Doctrine of Horton v. California. A patdown may only be a cursory palming of the outer clothing of the individual (still a "search," however). However, if an officer feels an item on the individual and that object's "incriminating character" is immediately apparent, the officer may seize the item. Surely a gun has a distinctive feel, so an officer would be justified under Dickerson to seize it.
  • Dickerson does not justify an additional "search" greater than cursory inspection, however. Thus, if an officer was not sure what she had felt at first and needed to manipulate the object to determine its identity, that is prohibited (not so if the officer is arresting the individual, however).

 

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