Minnesota v. Dickerson

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Minnesota v. Dickerson
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 3, 1993
Decided June 7, 1993
Full case nameMinnesota v. Dickerson
Citations508 U.S. 366 ( more )
113 S. Ct. 2130; 124 L. Ed. 2d 334; 1993 U.S. LEXIS 4018
Case history
PriorState v. Dickerson, 469 N.W.2d 462 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); affirmed, 481 N.W.2d 840 (Minn. 1992); cert. granted, 506 U.S. 814(1992).
The Fourth Amendment permits the seizure of contraband detected through a police officer's sense of touch during a protective patdown search.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
Byron White  · Harry Blackmun
John P. Stevens  · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia  · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter  · Clarence Thomas
Case opinions
MajorityWhite, joined by unanimous (Parts I and II); Stevens, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter (Parts III and IV)
Concur/dissentRehnquist, joined by Blackmun, Thomas
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. IV

Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court unanimously held that, when a police officer who is conducting a lawful patdown search for weapons feels something that plainly is contraband, the object may be seized even though it is not a weapon. By a 6-to-3 vote, however, the court held that the officer in this case had gone beyond the limits of a lawful patdown search before he could determine that the object was contraband, making the search and the subsequent seizure unlawful under the Fourth Amendment. [1]


Associate Justice Byron White gave the opinion of the court.


The defendant, Timothy Dickerson, was in a known drug area. An officer investigated by ordering a patdown of Dickerson to search for any weapons. During that search, he felt a small lump in his coat. Without further evidence, he reached in and grabbed the lump and found it was cocaine. In lower court, Dickerson moved that the cocaine be suppressed as evidence because the officer violated his right against unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, but the trial court overruled this objection, ruling that the frisking and the seizure of the cocaine were justified.

Procedural history

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling. [2] In affirming, the state Supreme Court held that both the stop and the frisk of respondent were valid under Terry v. Ohio , [3] but found the seizure of the cocaine to be unconstitutional. [4] Refusing to enlarge the "plain-view" exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, the court appeared to adopt a categorical rule barring the seizure of any contraband detected by an officer through the sense of touch during a patdown search. The court further noted that, even if it recognized such a "plain-feel" exception, the search in this case would not qualify because it went far beyond what is permissible under Terry. [1]

Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the cocaine in this case was inadmissible as evidence even though the Court held that officers were allowed to assume that an object was contraband through touch. [1]

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 invasion of the suspect's privacy beyond that already authorized by the officer's search for weapons; if the object is contraband, its warrantless seizure would be justified by the same practical considerations that inhere in the plain-view context. [5]

Related Research Articles

Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution Prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. It prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. In addition, it sets requirements for issuing warrants: warrants must be issued by a judge or magistrate, justified by probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and must particularly describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

In United States criminal law, probable cause is the standard by which police authorities have reason to obtain a warrant for the arrest of a suspected criminal or the issuing of a search warrant. It is also the standard by which grand juries issue criminal indictments. The principle behind the standard is to limit the power of authorities to perform random or abusive searches, and to promote lawful evidence gathering and procedural form during criminal arrest and prosecution. The standard also applies to personal or property searches.

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in which the Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures is not violated when a police officer stops a suspect on the street and frisks him or her without probable cause to arrest, if the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person "may be armed and presently dangerous."

A Terry stop in the United States allows the police to briefly detain a person based on reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activity. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause which is needed for arrest. When police stop and search a pedestrian, this is commonly known as a stop and frisk. When police stop an automobile, this is known as a traffic stop. If the police stop a motor vehicle on minor infringements in order to investigate other suspected criminal activity, this is known as a pretextual stop. Additional rules apply to stops that occur on a bus.

United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696 (1983), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States which held that a sniff of luggage in a public place, by a police dog specially trained to detect the odor of narcotics, was not a "search" under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court reasoned that the sniff of a dog is sui generis, intended to disclose only the presence or absence of narcotics. Because a dog sniff is such a limited test, the Court carved out this exception from the broad category of "searches" for which a warrant is generally required.

Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard of proof in United States law that is less than probable cause, the legal standard for arrests and warrants, but more than an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or 'hunch'"; it must be based on "specific and articulable facts", "taken together with rational inferences from those facts", and the suspicion must be associated with the specific individual. If police additionally have reasonable suspicion that a person so detained is armed and dangerous, they may "frisk" the person for weapons, but not for contraband like drugs. However, if the police develop probable cause during a weapons frisk, they can then search you. Reasonable suspicion is evaluated using the "reasonable person" or "reasonable officer" standard, in which said person in the same circumstances could reasonably suspect a person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity; it depends upon the totality of circumstances, and can result from a combination of particular facts, even if each is individually innocuous.

In the United States, the plain view doctrine is an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement that allows an officer to seize evidence and contraband that are found in plain view during a lawful observation. The doctrine is also regularly used by TSA officers while screening persons and property at U.S. airports.

Stop and identify statutes US state laws allowing police to require identification of those suspected of a crime

"Stop and identify" statutes are laws in several U.S. states that authorize police to lawfully order people whom they reasonably suspect of a crime to state their name. If there is not reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed, an individual is not required to provide identification, even in these states.

Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the Fourth Amendment is not violated when the use of a drug-sniffing dog during a routine traffic stop does not unreasonably prolong the length of the stop.


Frisking is a search of a person's outer clothing wherein a person runs his or her hands along the outer garments to detect any concealed weapons.

Arizona v. Hicks, 480 U.S. 321 (1987), held that the Fourth Amendment requires the police to have probable cause to seize items in plain view.

Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23 (1963), was a case before the United States Supreme Court, which incorporated the Fourth Amendment's protections against illegal search and seizure. The case was decided on June 10, 1963, by a vote of 5–4.

Police officers in various jurisdictions have power to search members of the public, for example, for weapons, drugs and stolen property. This article concerns searches of members of the public who have not been arrested and who are not held in detention. For search powers in relation to those persons see Search on arrest and Searches in detention. For searches of property, rather than people, see search and seizure.

Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), was a unanimous United States Supreme Court decision that "declared that any traffic offense committed by a driver was a legitimate legal basis for a stop."

Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128 (1990), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the warrantless seizure of evidence which is in plain view. The discovery of the evidence does not have to be inadvertent, although that is a characteristic of most legitimate plain-view seizures. The opinion clarified the plain view doctrine of the Court's Fourth Amendment analysis.

Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981), was a 6–3 decision by the United States Supreme Court which held for Fourth Amendment purposes, a warrant to search for contraband founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to detain the occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted.

Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States handed down in 1990. In the case, the Court held that the Fourth Amendment permits a properly limited protective sweep in conjunction with an in-home arrest when the searching officer possesses a reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the arrest scene.

Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977), is a United States Supreme Court criminal law decision holding that a police officer ordering a person out of a car following a traffic stop and conducting a pat-down to check for weapons did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

<i>Florida v. Jardines</i> United States Supreme Court case

Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1 (2013), was a United States Supreme Court case which resulted in the decision that police use of a trained detection dog to sniff for narcotics on the front porch of a private home is a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and therefore, without consent, requires both probable cause and a search warrant.


  1. 1 2 3 Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993).
  2. State v. Dickerson, 469N.W.2d462 ( Minn. Ct. App. 1991).
  3. Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1 (1968).
  4. State v. Dickerson, 481N.W.2d840 ( Minn. 1992).
  5. Dickerson, 508 U.S. at 375-76.