United States v. Place

United States v. Place.

462 U.S. 696, 103 S.Ct. 2637, 77 LEd.2d 110 (1993).


v. Raymond J. PLACE.

No. 81-1617.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued March 2, 1983.

Decided June 20,1983.

Alan I. Horowitz argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Jensen, Deputy Solicitor General Frey, and John Fichter De Pue.

James D. Clark argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.*

* Fred E. Inbau, Wayne W. Schmidt, James P. Manak, Evelle J. Younger, and Howard G. Berringer filed a brief for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc., et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.

Richard Emery and Charles S. Sims filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.

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.


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 inspected 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. The District Court denied the motion. Applying the standard of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 LEd.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 LEd.2d 1312 (1982), and now affirm.


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.  [FN2]     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 authorities have probable   cause   to   believe   that   a container holds contraband or evidence of a crime, but have not secured a warrant, the Court has interpreted the Amendment to permit seizure of the property, pending issuance of a warrant to examine its contents, if the exigencies of the circumstances demand it or some other   recognized   exception   to   the warrant requirement is present.    See, e.g., Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753,   761,   99   S.Ct.   2586,   2591,   61 L.Ed.2d 235 (1979);    United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 53 LEd.2d 538 (1977);   Coolidge v. New Hampshire,  403  U.S.  443,  91   S.Ct. 2022, 29 LEd.2d 564 (1971). [FN3] For example, “objects such as weapons or contraband found in a public place may be  seized   by  the  police  without  a warrant,” Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 587,  100 S.Ct.   1371,  1380,  63 LEd.2d  639  (1980),  because,  under these circumstances, the risk of the item’s  disappearance  or  use  for  its intended purpose before a warrant may be obtained outweighs the interest in possession.    See also G.M. Leasing Corp. v. United States, 429 U.S. 338, 354, 97 S.Ct. 619, 629, 50 LEd.2d 530 (1975).


FN2. The Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment provides that “no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

FN3.   In   Sanders,   the   Court explained:

“The police acted properly-indeed commendably–in apprehending respondent and his luggage. They had ample probable cause to believe that respondent’s green suitcase contained marihuana…. Having probable cause to believe that contraband was being driven away in the taxi, the police were justified in stopping the vehicle … and seizing the suitcase they suspected contained contraband.” 442 U.S., at 761, 99 S.Ct., at 2591. The Court went on to hold that the police violated the Fourth Amendment in immediately searching the luggage rather than first obtaining a warrant authorizing the search. Id., at 766, 99 S.Ct., at 2594. That holding was not affected by our recent decision in United States v. Boss, 456 U.S. 798, 824, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 2172, 72 LEd.2d 572 (1982).

In this case, the Government asks us to recognize the reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment of warrantless seizures of personal luggage from the custody of the owner on the basis of less than probable cause, for the purpose of pursuing a limited course of investigation, short of opening the luggage, that would quickly confirm or dispel the authorities’ suspicion. Specifically, we are asked to apply the principles of Terry v. Ohio, supra, to permit such seizures on the basis of reasonable, articulable suspicion, premised on objective facts, that the luggage contains contraband or evidence of a crime. In our view, such application is appropriate.

In Terry the Court first recognized “the narrow authority of police officers who suspect criminal activity to make limited intrusions on an  individual’s personal security based on less than probable cause.” Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692,  698,   101   S.Ct.  2587,  2591,  69 LEd.2d 340 (1981).   In approving the limited search for weapons, or “frisk,” of an   individual   the   police   reasonably believed to be armed and dangerous, the Court implicitly acknowledged the authority of the police to make a forcible stop of a person when the officer has reasonable,  articulable suspicion that the person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.    392 U.S., at 22, 88 S.Ct., at 1880. That implicit    proposition    was   embraced openly in Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143,   146,   92   S.Ct.   1921,   1923,   32 LEd.2d 612 (1972), where the Court relied on Terry to hold that the police officer lawfully made a forcible stop of the suspect to investigate an informant’s tip   that   the   suspect   was   carrying narcotics and a concealed weapon. See also   Michigan   v.   Summers,   supra (limited detention of occupants while authorities search premises pursuant to valid search warrant);   United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 101 S.Ct. 690, 66 LEd.2d 621 (1981) (stop near border of vehicle suspected of transporting illegal aliens); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975) (brief investigative stop near border for questioning about citizenship and immigration status).

The exception to the probable-cause requirement for limited seizures of the person recognized in Terry and its progeny rests on a balancing of the competing interests to determine the reasonableness of the type of seizure involved within the meaning of “the Fourth Amendment’s general proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures.” 392 U.S., at 20, 88 S.Ct., at 1879. We must balance the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion. When the nature and extent of the detention are minimally intrusive of the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests, the opposing law enforcement interests can support a seizure based on less than probable cause.

We examine first the governmental interest offered as a justification for a brief seizure of luggage from the suspect’s custody for the purpose of pursuing a limited course of investigation. The Government contends that, where the authorities possess specific and articulable facts warranting a reasonable belief that a traveler’s luggage contains narcotics, the governmental interest in seizing the luggage briefly to pursue further investigation is substantial. We agree. As observed in United States v. Mendenhall, “[t]he public has a compelling interest in detecting those who would traffic in deadly drugs for personal profit.” 446 U.S. 544, 561, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 1880, 64 LEd.2d 497 (1980) (opinion of POWELL, J.).

Respondent   suggests   that,   absent some special law enforcement interest such as officer safety, a generalized interest in law enforcement cannot justify an intrusion on an individual’s Fourth Amendment interests in the absence of probable   cause.      Our   prior   cases, however, do not support this proposition. In Terry, we described the governmental interests supporting the initial seizure of the    person    as    “effective    crime prevention and detection;     it is this interest which underlies the recognition that a police officer may in appropriate circumstances and  in  an appropriate manner approach a person for purposes of    investigating    possibly    criminal behavior   even   though   there   is   no probable cause to make an arrest.” 392 U.S., at 22, 88 S.Ct., at 1880. Similarly, in Michigan v. Summers we identified three  law  enforcement  interests  that justified    limited    detention    of   the occupants   of   the   premises   during execution of a valid search warrant: “preventing   flight   in   the   event   that incriminating    evidence    is    found,” “minimizing the risk of harm” both to the officers and the occupants, and “orderly completion of the search.” 452 U.S., at 702-703,101 S.Ct., at 2594. Cf. Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. —, —, 103 S.Ct. 1319,   1325,  75  LEd.2d  229   (1983) (plurality   opinion)    (“The    predicate permitting seizures on suspicion short of probable cause is that law enforcement interests warrant a limited intrusion on the personal security of the suspect”). The test is whether those interests are sufficiently “substantial,” 452  U.S.,  at 699, 101  S.Ct., at 2592, not whether they are independent of the interest in investigating   crimes   effectively   and apprehending suspects. The context of a particular law enforcement practice, of course,  may affect the determination whether  a  brief   intrusion   on   Fourth Amendment   interests   on   less   than probable cause is essential to effective criminal investigation.   Because of the inherently   transient   nature   of   drug courier   activity   at   airports,   allowing police to make brief investigative stops of persons at airports on reasonable suspicion of drug-trafficking substantially enhances the likelihood that police will be able to prevent the flow of narcotics into distribution channels. [FN5]

FN5. Referring to the problem of intercepting drug couriers in the nation’s airports, Justice POWELL has observed: “Much of the drug traffic is highly organized and conducted by sophisticated criminal syndicates. The profits are enormous. And many drugs … may be easily concealed. As a result, the obstacles to detection of illegal conduct may be unmatched in any other area of law enforcement.” United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S., at 561-562, 100 S.Ct., at 1880-1881 (opinion of POWELL, J.). See Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S., at —-, 103 S.Ct., at 1335 (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting) (“The special need for flexibility in uncovering illicit drug couriers is hardly debatable”) (airport context).

Against this strong governmental interest, we must weigh the nature and extent of the intrusion upon the individual’s Fourth Amendment rights when the police briefly detain luggage for limited investigative purposes. On this point, respondent Place urges that the rationale for a Terry stop of the person is wholly inapplicable to investigative detentions of personalty. Specifically, the Terry exception to the probable-cause requirement is premised on the notion that a Terry -type stop of the person is substantially less intrusive of a person’s liberty interests than a formal arrest. In the property context, however, Place urges, there are no degrees of intrusion. Once the owner’s property is seized, the dispossession is absolute.

We disagree. The intrusion on possessory interests occasioned by a seizure of one’s personal effects can vary both in its nature and extent. The seizure may be made after the owner has relinquished control of the property to a third party or, as here, from the immediate custody and control of the owner. Moreover, the police may confine their investigation *706 to an on- the-spot inquiry-for example, immediate exposure of the luggage to a trained narcotics detection dog -or transport the property to another location. Given the fact that seizures of property can vary in intrusiveness, some brief detentions of personal effects may be so minimally intrusive of Fourth Amendment interests that strong countervailing governmental interests will justify a seizure based only on specific articulable facts that the property contains contraband or evidence of a crime.

In sum, we conclude that 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 would permit the officer to detain the luggage briefly to investigate the circumstances that aroused his suspicion, provided that the investigative detention is properly limited in scope.

The purpose for which respondent’s luggage was seized, of course, was to arrange its exposure to a narcotics detection dog. Obviously, if this investigative procedure is itself a search requiring probable cause, the initial seizure of respondent’s luggage for the purpose of subjecting it to the sniff test-no matter how brief-could not be justified on less than probable cause. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S., at 20, 88 S.Ct., at 1879; United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 421, 101 S.Ct. 690, 697, 66 LEd.2d 621 (1981); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 881-882, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 2580, 45 LEd.2d 607 (1975); Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 146, 92 S.Ct. 1921, 1923, 32 LEd.2d612(1972).

The Fourth Amendment ‘protects people from unreasonable government intrusions into their legitimate expectations of privacy.” United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 7, 97 S.Ct.

2476, 2481, 53 LEd.2d 538 (1977). We have affirmed that a person possesses a privacy   interest   in   the   contents   of personal luggage that is protected by the Fourth Amendment. Id., at 13, 97 S.Ct., at 2484.    A “canine sniff” by a well-trained    narcotics    detection    dog, however, does not require opening the luggage.        It    does    not    expose noncontraband   items   that   otherwise would remain hidden from public view, as   does,   for   example,   an   officer’s rummaging through the contents of the luggage.    Thus, the manner in which information   is   obtained   through   this investigative  technique  is   much   less intrusive    than    a    typical    search. Moreover, the sniff discloses only the presence or absence of narcotics, a contraband item. Thus, despite the fact that   the   sniff   tells   the   authorities something about the contents of the luggage,  the  information  obtained  is limited.    This limited disclosure also ensures that the owner of the property is not subjected to the embarrassment and inconvenience    entailed    in    less discriminate    and    more    intrusive investigative methods.

In these respects, the canine sniff is sui generis. We are aware of no other investigative procedure that is so limited both in the manner in which the information is obtained and in the content of the information revealed by the procedure. Therefore, we conclude that the particular course of investigation that the agents intended to pursue here–exposure of respondent’s luggage, which was located in a public place, to a trained canine-did not constitute a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.


There is no doubt that the agents made a “seizure” of Place’s luggage for purposes of the Fourth Amendment when, following his refusal to consent to a search, the agent told Place that he was going to take the luggage to a federal judge to secure issuance of a warrant. As we observed in Terry, “[t]he manner in which the seizure … [was] conducted is, of course, as vital a part of the inquiry as whether [it was] warranted at all.” 392 U.S., at 28, 88 S.Ct., at 1883. We therefore examine whether the agents’ conduct in this case was such as to place the seizure within the general rule requiring probable cause for a seizure or within Terry ‘s exception to that rule.

At the outset, we must reject the Government’s suggestion that the point at which probable cause for seizure of luggage from the person’s presence becomes necessary is more distant than in the case of a Terry stop of the person himself. The premise of the Government’s argument is that seizures of property are generally less intrusive than seizures of the person. While true in some circumstances, that premise is faulty on the facts we address in this case. The precise type of detention we confront here is seizure of personal luggage from the immediate possession of the suspect for the purpose of arranging exposure to a narcotics detection dog. Particularly in the case of detention of luggage within the traveler’s immediate possession, the police conduct intrudes on both the suspect’s possessory interest in his luggage as well as his liberty interest in proceeding with his itinerary.    The person whose luggage is detained is technically still free to continue his travels or carry out other personal activities pending release of the luggage.    Moreover, he is not subjected to the coercive atmosphere of a custodial confinement or to the public indignity of being personally detained. Nevertheless,    such    a   seizure   can effectively restrain the person since he is subjected to the possible disruption of his travel plans in order to remain with his luggage or to arrange for its return. [FN8] Therefore, when the police seize luggage from the suspect’s custody, we think   the    limitations    applicable   to investigative detentions of the person should define the permissible scope of an    investigative    detention    of   the person’s luggage on less than probable cause.   Under this standard, it is clear that the police conduct here exceeded the permissible limits of a Terry -type investigative stop.

FN8. “At least when the authorities do not make it absolutely clear how they plan to reunite the suspect and his possessions at some future time and place, seizure of the object is tantamount to seizure of the person. This is because that person must either remain on the scene or else seemingly surrender his effects permanently to the police.” 3 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure § 9.6, p. 61 (1982Supp.). The   length   of   the   detention   of respondent’s luggage alone precludes the  conclusion that the  seizure was reasonable in the absence of probable

cause. Although we have recognized the reasonableness of seizures longer than the momentary ones involved in Terry, Adams,    and    Brignoni-Ponce,    see Michigan v. Summers, supra, the brevity of the invasion of the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests is an  important factor in determining whether the seizure is   so   minimally   intrusive   as   to   be justifiable   on    reasonable   suspicion. Moreover, in assessing the effect of the length of the detention, we take into account whether the  police  diligently pursue their investigation. We note that here the New York agents knew the time of    Place’s    scheduled    arrival    at LaGuardia, had ample time to arrange for their additional investigation at that location,    and    thereby   could    have

minimized the intrusion on respondent’s Fourth  Amendment  interests.     Thus, although   we   decline   to   adopt   any outside time limitation for a permissible Terry stop, we have never approved a seizure of the person for the prolonged 90-minute   period   involved   here  and cannot do so on the facts presented by this case. See Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 60 LEd.2d 824(1979).

Although the 90-minute detention of respondent’s luggage is sufficient to render the seizure unreasonable, the violation was exacerbated by the failure of the agents to accurately inform respondent 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. In short, we hold that the detention of respondent’s luggage in this case went beyond the narrow authority possessed by police to detain briefly luggage reasonably suspected to contain narcotics.


We conclude that, under all of the circumstances of this case, the seizure of respondent’s luggage was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Consequently, the evidence obtained from the subsequent search of his luggage was inadmissible, and Place’s conviction must be reversed. The judgment of the Court of Appeals, accordingly, is affirmed.

It is so ordered.