Minnesota v. Dickerson
Following is the case brief for Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993)
Case Summary of Minnesota v. Dickerson:
- Dickerson left a building known for drug trafficking and was stopped by police.
- The officer conducted a Terry stop and frisk. He felt a lump in Dickerson’s pocket. He manipulated the lump further in the pocket to determine that it was likely contraband.
- The officer then seized the object. It was a small bag of cocaine.
- The trial court denied Dickerson’s motion to suppress the drugs.
- The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, and the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed that reversal, refusing to recognize a “plain feel” exception to the warrant requirement.
- The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there is a “plain feel” exception to the warrant requirement when it is immediately apparent that an object is contraband; but, in this case, the officer exceeded his authority under the Terry stop and frisk by manipulating the object before determining that it was contraband.
Minnesota v. Dickerson Case Brief
Statement of the Facts:
Respondent Dickerson left a building known for drug trafficking. When he saw police officers, he walked in the other direction. A police officer stopped him and conducted a frisk pursuant to Terry v. Ohio. The officer did not discover any weapons, but felt a lump in Dickerson’s pocket. After manipulating the object in the pocket further, the officer suspected it was drugs, pulled out the object, and discovered that it was a small bag of cocaine. Dickerson moved to suppress the drugs at trial.
- The trial court denied the motion to suppress.
- The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed.
- The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the reversal. It held that it would not recognize a “plain feel” exception to the warrant requirement.
- The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Issues and Holdings:
- Does the Fourth Amendment permit the seizure of contraband detected through a police officer’s sense of touch during a Terry frisk? Yes.
- Did the officer in this case exceed the proper bounds of the Terry stop and frisk by manipulating the object in Dickerson’s pocket? Yes.
The decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court is affirmed.
Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:
The police may seize nonthreatening contraband detected through the sense of touch during a protective Terry stop and frisk, as long as the search stays within the bounds of the Terry stop.
Terry v. Ohio allows a brief stop and frisk of someone when an officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, and there is a danger that the person is armed. The Terry stop, however, is a protective search and is not meant to discover evidence of crime.
Under the “plain-view” doctrine, an officer may seize contraband from a suspect without a warrant if the officer sees the contraband in plain view, and if it is immediately apparent that the object is contraband. Similarly, an officer may seize contraband from suspect without a warrant if it is immediately apparent upon touching the object (“plain feel”) that the object is contraband.
In this case, however, the officer exceeded his authority under the Terry stop. It was not immediately apparent to the officer that the object in Dickerson’s pocket was contraband. Rather, the officer had to manipulate the object somewhat to determine its illegal character. Therefore, the seizure of the drugs in this case was unconstitutional.
Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:
Concurring Opinion (Scalia):
The original understanding of the Fourth Amendment when it was drafted (according to Justice Scalia’s own research) seem at odds with the “frisk” portion of “stop and frisk” permitted by Terry v. Ohio. Since the “frisk” was not constitutionally challenged in this case, the Court’s judgment is correct.
Concurring in part, and Dissenting in part (Rehnquist):
While the Court is correct to find that plain touch is sufficient to seize contraband as a result of a Terry stop, the case should be remanded for further proceedings so the trial court can make precise findings as to whether the officer had probable cause to believe the lump was contraband.
Minnesota v. Dickerson is now best known as recognizing the “plain feel” or “plain touch” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.