United States v. Place, 81-1617

Citation103 S.Ct. 2637,77 L.Ed.2d 110,462 U.S. 696
Decision Date20 June 1983
Docket NumberNo. 81-1617,81-1617
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner v. Raymond J. PLACE
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

When respondent's behavior aroused the suspicion of law enforcement officers as he waited in line at the Miami International Airport to purchase a ticket to New York's La Guardia Airport, the officers approached respondent and requested and received identification. Respondent consented to a search of the two suitcases he had checked, but because his flight was about to depart the officers decided not to search the luggage. The officers then found some discrepancies in the address tags on the luggage and called Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) authorities in New York to relay this information. Upon respondent's arrival at La Guardia Airport, two DEA agents approached him, said that they believed he might be carrying narcotics, and asked for and received identification. When respondent refused to consent to a search of his luggage, one of the agents told him that they were going to take it to a federal judge to obtain a search warrant. The agents then took the luggage to Kennedy Airport where it was subjected to a "sniff test" by a trained narcotics detection dog which reacted positivel to one of the suitcases. At this point, 90 minutes had elapsed since the seizure of the luggage. Thereafter, the agents obtained a search warrant for that suitcase and upon opening it discovered cocaine. Respondent was indicted for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and the District Court denied his motion to suppress the contents of the suitcase. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was convicted, but reserved the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the prolonged seizure of respondent's luggage exceeded the limits of the type of investigative stop permitted by Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889, and hence amounted to a seizure without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Held: Under the circumstances, the seizure of respondent's luggage violated the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, the evidence obtained from the subsequent search of the luggage was inadmissible, and respondent's conviction must be reversed. Pp. 700-710.

(a) When an officer's observations lead him reasonably to believe that a traveler is carrying luggage that contains narcotics, the principles of Terry and its progeny permit the officer to detain the luggage temporarily to investigate the circumstances that aroused the officer's suspicion provided that the investigative detention is properly limited in scope. Pp. 700-706.

(b) The investigative procedure of subjecting luggage to a "sniff test" by a well-trained narcotics detection dog does not constitute a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 706-707.

(c) When the police seize luggage from the suspect's custody, the limitations applicable to investigative detentions of the person should define the permissible scope of an investigative detention of the luggage on less than probable cause. Under this standard, the police conduct here exceeded the permissible limits of a Terry-type investigative stop. The length of the detention of respondent's luggage alone precludes the conclusion that the seizure was reasonable in the absence of probable cause. This Fourth Amendment violation was exacerbated by the DEA agents' failure to inform respondent accurately of the place to which they were transporting his luggage, of the length of time he might be dispossessed, and of what arrangements would be made for return of the luggage if the investigation dispelled the suspicion. Pp. 707-710.

660 F.2d 44 (2 Cir.1981), affirmed.

Alan I. Horowitz, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

James Dexter Clark, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for respondent.

Justice O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the issue whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement authorities from temporarily detaining personal luggage for exposure to a trained narcotics detection dog on the basis of reasonable suspicion that the luggage contains narcotics. Given the enforcement problems associated with the detection of narcotics trafficking and the minimal intrusion that a properly limited detention would entail, we conclude that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit such a detention. On the facts of this case, however, we hold that the police conduct exceeded the bounds of a permissible investigative detention of the luggage.

I

Respondent Raymond J. Place's behavior aroused the suspicions of law enforcement officers as he waited in line at the Miami International Airport to purchase a ticket to New York's LaGuardia Airport. As Place proceeded to the gate for his flight, the agents approached him and requested his airline ticket and some identification. Place complied with the request and consented to a search of the two suitcases he had checked. Because his flight was about to depart, however, the agents decided not to search the luggage.

Prompted by Place's parting remark that he had recognized that they were police, the agents inspec ed the address tags on the checked luggage and noted discrepancies in the two street addresses. Further investigation revealed that neither address existed and that the telephone number Place had given the airline belonged to a third address on the same street. On the basis of their encounter with Place and this information, the Miami agents called Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) authorities in New York to relay their information about Place.

Two DEA agents waited for Place at the arrival gate at LaGuardia Airport in New York. There again, his behavior aroused the suspicion of the agents. After he had claimed his two bags and called a limousine, the agents decided to approach him. They identified themselves as federal narcotics agents, to which Place responded that he knew they were "cops" and had spotted them as soon as he had deplaned. One of the agents informed Place that, based on their own observations and information obtained from the Miami authorities, they believed that he might be carrying narcotics. After identifying the bags as belonging to him, Place stated that a number of police at the Miami Airport had surrounded him and searched his baggage. The agents responded that their information was to the contrary. The agents requested and received identification from Place—a New Jersey driver's license, on which the agents later ran a computer check that disclosed no offenses, and his airline ticket receipt. When Place refused to consent to a search of his luggage, one of the agents told him that they were going to take the luggage to a federal judge to try to obtain a search warrant and that Place was free to accompany them. Place declined, but obtained from one of the agents telephone numbers at which the agents could be reached.

The agents then took the bags to Kennedy Airport, where they subjected the bags to a "sniff test" by a trained narcotics detection dog. The dog reacted positively to the smaller of the two bags but ambiguously to the larger bag. Approximately 90 minutes had elapsed since the seizure of respondent's luggage. Because it was late on a Friday afternoon, the agents retained the luggage until Monday morning, when they secured a search warrant from a magistrate for the smaller bag. Upon opening that bag, the agents discovered 1,125 grams of cocaine.

Place was indicted for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). In the District Court, Place moved to suppress the contents of the luggage seized from him at LaGuardia Airport, claiming that the warrantless seizure of the luggage violated his Fourth Amendment rights.1 The District Court denied the motion. Applying the standard of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), to the detention of personal property, it concluded that detention of the bags could be justified if based on reasonable suspicion to believe that the bags contained narcotics. Finding reasonable suspicion, the District Court held that Place's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated by seizure of the bags by the DEA agents. 498 F.Supp. 1217, 1228 (EDNY 1980). Place pleaded guilty to the possession charge, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

On appeal of the conviction, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed. 660 F.2d 44 (1981). The majority assumed both that Terry principles could be applied to justify a warrantless seizure of baggage on less than probable cause and that reasonable suspicion existed to justify the investigatory stop of Place. The majority concluded, however, that the prolonged seizure of Place's baggage exceeded the permissible limits of a Terry -type investigative stop and consequently amounted to a seizure without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

We granted certiorari, 457 U.S. 1104, 102 S.Ct. 2901, 73 L.Ed.2d 1312 (1982), and now affirm.

II

The Fourth Amendment protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." (Emphasis added.) Although in the context of personal property, and particularly containers, the Fourth Amendment challenge is typically to the subsequent search of the container rather than to its initial seizure by the authorities, our cases reveal some general principles regarding seizures. In the ordinary case, the Court has viewed a seizure of personal property as per se unreasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment unless it is accomplished pursuant to a judicial warrant issued upon probable cause and particularly describing the items to be seized.2 See, e.g., Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192, 196, 48 S.Ct. 74, 76, 72 L.Ed. 231 (1927). Where law enforcement...

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