MINNESOTA v. DICKERSON

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
91-2019
Petitioner 
Minnesota
Respondent 
Timothy Dickerson
Advocates
(on behalf of the Petitioner)
(for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioner)
(on behalf of the Respondent)
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Facts of the Case 

On November 9, 1989, while exiting an apartment building with a history of cocaine trafficking, Timothy Dickerson spotted police officers and turned to walk in the opposite direction. In response, the officers commanded Dickerson to stop and proceeded to frisk him. An officer discovered a lump in Dickerson's jacket pocket, and, upon further tactile investigation, formed the belief that it was cocaine. The officer reached into Dickerson's pocket and confirmed that the lump was in fact a small bag of cocaine. Consequently, Dickerson was charged with possession of a controlled substance. He requested that the cocaine be excluded from evidence, but the trial court denied his request and he was found guilty. Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, and the State Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's decision.

Question 

When a police officer detects contraband through his or her sense of touch during a protective patdown search, does the Fourth Amendment permit its seizure and subsequent introduction into evidence? Was the police officer who frisked Dickerson adhering to the Fourth Amendment when he formed the belief, through his sense of touch, that the lump in Dickerson's jacket pocket was cocaine?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Minnesota, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 4: Fourth Amendment

Yes and No. In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Byron R. White, the Court recalled that a police officer may seize contraband when it is in plain sight, and "its incriminating character is immediately apparent". It held that instances in which an officer uses the sense of sight to discover illegal goods are analogous to those involving the sense of touch. The Court also reasoned that the tactile detection of contraband during a lawful pat-down search does not constitute any further invasion of privacy, therefore warrantless seizure was permissible. The Court also concluded that the police officer frisking Dickerson stepped outside the boundaries outlined in Terry v. Ohio which requires a protective pat-down search to involve only what is necessary for the detection of weapons. In fact the officer was already aware that Dickerson's jacket pocket did not contain a weapon, when he detected the cocaine through further tactile investigation.

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MINNESOTA v. DICKERSON. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 19 June 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1992/1992_91_2019>.
MINNESOTA v. DICKERSON, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1992/1992_91_2019 (last visited June 19, 2014).
"MINNESOTA v. DICKERSON," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 19, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1992/1992_91_2019.