United States v. Place
462 U.S. 696, 103 S. Ct. 2637, 77 L. Ed.2d 110 (1983)

  • Place was in the Miami airport acting suspiciously. The Miami police interviewed him but let him fly to NYC (they alerted the NYC police though).
  • In NYC, the police there stopped Place and asked to search his bags. He declined.
  • Place also lied and told the police that he’d been searched in Miami.
  • The police took Place’s bags to a drug-sniffing dog who reacted. The police used this information to obtain a warrant, searched Place’s bags and found a pile of drugs.
    • It took 90 minutes to get the dog.
  • At Trial, Place made a motion to suppress. It was denied.
    • Place argued that the drug sniffing dog was a search, and was an unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional violation of the 4th Amendment, because at that point, the police did not have either a warrant nor probable cause.
  • Place pled guilty to drug possession, then appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed, and granted the motion to suppress. The prosecutor appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the prolonged seizure of Place’s luggage went beyond the limited detention of a person based on reasonable suspicion allowable under Terry v. Ohio (392 U.S. 1 (1968)).
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court and granted the motion to suppress.
    • The US Supreme Court found that a sniff by a police dog specially trained to detect the presence of narcotics is not a search under the meaning of the 4th Amendment.
    • Place unsuccessfully argued that the police seized his property without probable cause, which should be unconstitutional, but the Court found that, where the authorities possess specific and articulable facts warranting reasonable belief that travelers luggage contains drugs, the governmental interest in seizing the luggage briefly to pursue further investigation is substantial.
      • The Court performed a balancing test and balanced government interest in fighting crime to the minor inconvenience of having your luggage briefly detained.
    • The Court compared this case to Terry v. Ohio (392 U.S. 1 (1968)) and found that as long as the seizure was limited in scope and there was something to arouse suspicions, the lesser degree of intrusion meant that there was no need to show probable cause.
    • However, the Court found that a seizure of this type must be quick, and the police held the luggage for 90 minutes. The Court found that was too long, so the seizure was unreasonable.
      • The Court noted that the police knew Place was coming because they had been alerted by the Miami police, so it was extra unreasonable that they couldn’t get a drug-sniffing dog in less than 90 minutes.
  • The basic point of this case is that police actions must use reasonable available, least intrusive means.
    • See Florida v. Royer (460 U.S. 491 (1983)).
  • Another interesting thing to note is that this case shows that you can use a Terry stop to search for evidence! This search is allowable only with the use of drug sniffing dogs because that’s technically not an invasion of privacy.
    • Since the dog can only tell if there are drugs in the bag, it’s not a search because it doesn’t reveal anything about your possessions, except if there are illegal drugs there.