Minnesota v. Dickerson

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Minnesota v. Dickerson
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 3, 1993
Decided June 7, 1993
Full case name Minnesota v. Dickerson
Citations 508 U.S. 366 (more)
113 S. Ct. 2130; 124 L. Ed. 2d 334
The Fourth Amendment permits the seizure of contraband detected through a police officer's sense of touch during a protective patdown search.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority White, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. IV

Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993),[1] was a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court unanimously held that, when a police officer who is conducting a lawful patdown search for weapons feels something that plainly is contraband, the object may be seized even though it is not a weapon. By a 6-to-3 vote, however, the court held that the officer in this case had gone beyond the limits of a lawful patdown search before he could determine that the object was contraband, making the search and the subsequent seizure unlawful under the Fourth Amendment.

Associate Justice Byron White gave the opinion of the court.


The defendant, Timothy Dickerson, was in a known drug area. An officer investigated by ordering a patdown of Dickerson to search for any weapons. During that search, he felt a small lump in his coat. Without further evidence, he reached in and grabbed the lump and found it was cocaine. In lower court, Dickerson moved that the cocaine be suppressed as evidence because the officer violated his right against unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Ruling of the Courts[edit]

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed. In affirming, the state Supreme Court held that both the stop and the frisk of respondent were valid under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1, but found the seizure of the cocaine to be unconstitutional. Refusing to enlarge the "plain-view" exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, the court appeared to adopt a categorical rule barring the seizure of any contraband detected by an officer through the sense of touch during a patdown search. The court further noted that, even if it recognized such a "plain-feel" exception, the search in this case would not qualify because it went far beyond what is permissible under Terry. [2]

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the cocaine in this case was inadmissible as evidence even though the Court held that officers were allowed to assume that an object was contraband through touch.[3]


Minnesota v. Dickerson: Case Summary