United States v. Place

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Raymond J. Place
LOCATION: Minnesota State Legislature

DOCKET NO.: 81-1617
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 462 US 696 (1983)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1983
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1983

Alan I. Horowitz - on behalf of the Petitioner
James Dexter Clark - on behalf of the Respondent
The Clerk - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case

(Tom Feledy prepared this summary.)

A traveler at an airport alerted the suspicions of drug agents, who, based upon his behavior and discrepancies in his luggage tags, believed he was carrying narcotics. They relayed this information to fellow agents at his destination airport. There, the agents met him and seized his bags without his consent. Ninety minutes after the seizure, his bags were subjected to a "sniff" test by a drug-detection dog. The dog signaled the presence of a controlled substance in one of the bags. The agents then obtained a warrant for that suitcase, which turned out to contain cocaine, and the man was convicted of the drug offense. The Court of Appeals reversed his conviction on the ground that the ninety minutes exceeded the investigative stop permitted by _Terry v. Ohio

, and thus violated the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure privilege.


Was the ninety minute seizure of the traveler's luggage a valid investigative stop under Terry? Did the "sniff test" by the dog constitute a search?

Media for United States v. Place

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1983 in United States v. Place

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in United States against Place.

Mr. Horowitz, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Alan I. Horowitz:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the issue presented here concerns the constitutionality of police conduct undertaken to investigate suspicion of illegal activity as it arises in a public place.

Specifically, when circumstances arise that give police a reasonable suspicion that an individual is carrying contraband in his suitcase, is it reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment for the police to detain that suitcase for a limited time in order to conduct a specific limited course of investigation to confirm or dispel their suspicion, in this case, to arrange for a sniff by a narcotics-detecting dog?

The Court of Appeals held, and Respondent argues--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Horowitz, are you contesting basically the issue relating to the seizure and detention of the luggage as opposed to the subsequent exposure to the dog sniff?

Alan I. Horowitz:

--Yes, there is no contention here that the dog sniff itself was unconstitutional, given--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

So all we are dealing with is the seizure and detention.

Alan I. Horowitz:

--Yes, the 90-minute period of time during which the Respondent was dispossessed of his luggage.

The Court of Appeals held, and Respondent argues, that such conduct is unreasonable unless the police have probable cause to believe that the suitcase contains contraband, the same standard that would justify arresting the individual.

The facts underlying this case can be summarized as follows.

Two Florida narcotics detectives on duty at Miami Airport observed respondent behaving in a manner characterized by the District Court as "odd, if not bizarre".

To the trained eyes of the agents, this behavior seemed designed to detect surveillance, and created a suspicion in their minds that Respondent was a drug courier.

The officers also noted that Respondent had purchased his ticket with cash, and that there were certain discrepancies in the information on his baggage tags.

They approached Respondent in the boarding area, and had a brief conversation with him, but they terminated that conversation to allow Respondent to catch his flight to New York.

The Florida detectives, however, called ahead and communicated all of the information they have obtained to DEA Agent Gerard Whitmore, who was stationed at LaGuardia Airport.

Agent Whitmore and his partner watched Respondent as he alighted from the flight in New York.

They also observed him engaged in a series of maneuvers that appeared to them to be designed to detect and evade surveillance, and that indicated to these officers as well that Respondent likely was a drug courier.

After Respondent retrieved his bags from the baggage claim, the agents approached him, identified themselves, and informed him that he was suspected of carrying narcotics.

Respondent immediately stated that he had recognized the agents as policemen, a remark he had also made to the officers in Florida.

When asked whether the bags he was carrying were his, Respondent said that they were, and then he falsely stated that he had already been surrounded by a gang of agents in Miami who searched both his person and his bags.

Respondent subsequently refused a request by the officers to consent to a search of his bags, and then asked them whether he was under arrest.

Agent Whitmore informed him that he was free to leave, but that his luggage would be kept and taken to a judge to determine whether there was probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant.

The agents explained to Respondent that they would not open the luggage without a warrant, and that they would return it to him if no warrant was issued.

Some further conversation ensued, in which Respondent retracted his earlier admission of ownership of one of the bags, and asked the officers whether some arrangement could be made or whether something could be fixed up so that he could still leave the airport with his bags.

Ultimately, Respondent stated that he had pressing engagements and did not wish to remain with his luggage, and the agents gave him a number for him to contact them to arrange for the return of his luggage.

The agents then took the luggage to the Customs mail handling facility at Kennedy Airport to arrange for exposure to a drug-detecting dog.

Approximately 90 minutes after the luggage was taken from Respondent, the dog reacted positively to one suitcase.

After a search warrant was obtained, the suitcase was opened, and substantial quantities of cocaine, marijuana, and LSD were found.

The District Court denied a motion to suppress, finding that Agent Whitmore had reasonable suspicion that Respondent's suitcase contained contraband, and that this suspicion justified the temporary detention of the luggage to arrange for the dog sniff.