Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993)

2012-08-05 13:53:10

This case further defined the parameters of a pat–frisk under Terry v. Ohio (392 U.S. 1, 1968). Police encountered Dickerson as he left a ‘‘notorious ‘crack house.’’’ Dickerson walked towards police but abruptly changed course when he saw them. Suspicious, police stopped him. One officer pat–frisked Dickerson, finding no weapons but feeling a small lump in Dickerson’s nylon jacket. The officer later testified that he could tell, through the jacket, that the lump was crack-cocaine in cellophane. The officer retrieved a bag of cocaine from the pocket.

Appealing his conviction, Dickerson asserted that the search violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches, claiming it exceeded the limits of a permissible Terry pat–frisk. The Supreme Court reaffirmed (six to three) that police may pat–frisk an individual when reasonable suspicion arises. The search’s purpose is to find weapons, and police may seize any items found in that search in ‘‘plain view’’ whose unlawful nature is readily apparent. Because the officer had to manipulate, squeeze, and slide the lump to discern its illicit nature, the search exceeded Terry’s scope since these actions were unnecessary to find weapons. The Court reversed Dickerson’s conviction since the exclusionary rule compels suppression of unlawfully obtained evidence.

Justice Scalia’s concurrence articulated a central pillar of his constitutional philosophy. Reasoning that the original intent of the Fourth Amendment controlled, he questioned Terry’s propriety given that a ‘‘pat–frisk’’ would likely have been unlawful when the Constitution was adopted. The justice has favored this same rationale in intimating that he would abandon the exclusionary rule altogether.


References and Further Reading

  • Cooper, Frank Rudy, Cultural Context Matters: Terry’s ‘‘Seesaw Effect,’’ Oklahoma Law Review 56 (2003): 833, 858–859.
  • Dery, George M., III, The Uncertain Reach of the Plain Touch Doctrine: An Examination of Minnesota v. Dickerson and Its Impact on Current Fourth Amendment Law and Daily Police Practice, American Journal of Criminal Law 21 (1994): 385.
  • Harris, David A., Using Race or Ethnicity as a Factor in Assessing the Reasonableness of Fourth Amendment Activity: Description, Yes; Prediction, No, Mississippi Law Journal 73 (2003): 423.
  • Urbonya, Kathryn R., Rhetorically Reasonable Police Practices: Viewing the Supreme Court’s Multiple Discourse Paths, American Criminal Law Review 40 (2003): 1387.
  • Wallin, Howard E., Plain View Revisited, Pace Law Review 22 (2002): 307.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)
  • Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983)
  • Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)
  • Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85 (1979)

See also Arrest without a Warrant; Exclusionary Rule; Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961); Plain View; Scalia, Antonin; Search; Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); Warrantless Searches