Minnesota v. Dickerson
Decided on June 7, 1993; 508 US 366


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:
Criminal Justice (drugs), 4th Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

May police officers seize nonthreatening contraband detected during a protective patdown search?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Two police officers were patrolling the area surrounding a suspected crack house.  Dickerson (Respondent) exited the crack house and began walking towards the police car, but upon seeing the squad car, he abruptly halted and began walking in the opposite direction.  Based upon the  Respondent's evasive actions and the fact that he had just left a suspected crack house, the officers stopped him.  The officers performed a patdown to search for weapons, and during this search an officer felt a small lump in Respondent's jacket pocket.  The officer removed the lump from Respondent's pocket, and after examining it, he determined that it was crack cocaine.  The officer then arrested Dickerson.

Respondent was charged with possession of a controlled substance. He moved to suppress the cocaine as evidence because the officer violated his right against unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Hennepin County District Court determined that the officers were justified in searching Respondent and that, under consideration of the Plain View Doctrine, the officer's search did not violate the Fourth Amendment.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the officers had overstepped the bounds allowed by Terry v. Ohio.  The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed, refusing to extend the Plain View Doctrine to the sense of touch.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
William R. Kennedy, Hennepin County Public Defender and Peter W. Gorman, Assistant Public Defender represented Respondent.
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Minnesota Attorney General; Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney; Patrick C. Diamond, Deputy Hennepin County Attorney; and Beverly J. Wolfe, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney represented Petitioner.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
 
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by John F. Savarese, Steven R. Shapiro, and Deborah Gilman; and for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by David M. Eldridge. Richard H. Seamon argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Mueller, Deputy Solicitor General Bryson, and Kathleen A. Felton.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"Where, as here, 'an officer who is executing a valid search for one item seizes a different item,' this Court rightly 'has been sensitive to the danger... that officers will enlarge a specific authorization, furnished by a warrant or an exigency, into the equivalent of a general warrant to rummage and seize at will...

The officer's continued exploration of Respondent's pocket after having concluded that it contained no weapon was unrelated to 'the sole justification of the search,' the protection of the police officer and others nearby...

Although the officer was lawfully in a position to feel the lump in respondent's pocket, because Terry [Terry v. Ohio] entitled him to place his hands upon respondent's jacket, the court below determined that the incriminating character of the object was not immediately apparent to him.  Rather, the officer determined that the item was contraband only after conducting a further search, one not authorized by Terry [Terry v. Ohio] or by any other exception to the warrant requirement.  Because this further search of respondent's pocket was constitutionally invalid, the seizure of the cocaine that followed is likewise unconstitutional."

Held: The judgments are affirmed.

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • White, B.  Pro  (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A.  Pro  (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Kennedy, A.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W.  Pro  (Wrote concurring dissenting opinion)
  • Blackmun, H.  Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C.  Pro  (Joined Rehnquist's concurrence)
  • V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

    The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the United States Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Minnesota Supreme Court in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.