Amdt4.4.4.1.2.1 Terry Stop and Frisks and Vehicles

Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and 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.

A Terry search need not be limited to a stop and frisk of the person, but may extend as well to a protective search of the passenger compartment of a car if an officer possesses a reasonable belief, based on specific and articulable facts . . . that the suspect is dangerous and . . . may gain immediate control of weapons.1 How lengthy a Terry detention may be varies with the circumstances. In approving a 20-minute detention of a driver made necessary by the driver’s own evasion of drug agents and a state police decision to hold the driver until the agents could arrive on the scene, the Court indicated that it is appropriate to examine whether the police diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly, during which time it was necessary to detain the defendant.2

Similar principles govern detention of luggage at airports in order to detect the presence of drugs;Terry 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.3 The general rule is that when an officer’s observations lead him reasonably to believe that a traveler is carrying luggage that contains narcotics, the principles of Terry . . . 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.4 Seizure of luggage for an expeditious canine sniff by a dog trained to detect narcotics can satisfy this test even though seizure of luggage is in effect detention of the traveler, since the procedure results in limited disclosure, impinges only slightly on a traveler’s privacy interest in the contents of personal luggage, and does not constitute a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.5 By contrast, taking a suspect to an interrogation room on grounds short of probable cause, retaining his air ticket, and retrieving his luggage without his permission taints consent given under such circumstances to open the luggage, since by then the detention had exceeded the bounds of a permissible Terry investigative stop and amounted to an invalid arrest.6 But the same requirements for brevity of detention and limited scope of investigation are apparently inapplicable to border searches of international travelers, the Court having approved a 24-hour detention of a traveler suspected of smuggling drugs in her alimentary canal.7

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983) (suspect appeared to be under the influence of drugs, officer spied hunting knife exposed on floor of front seat and searched remainder of passenger compartment). Similar reasoning has been applied to uphold a protective sweep of a home in which an arrest is made if arresting officers have a reasonable belief that the area swept may harbor another individual posing a danger to the officers or to others. Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990).
  2.  Jump to essay-2United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 686 (1985). A more relaxed standard has been applied to detention of travelers at the border, the Court testing the reasonableness in terms of the period of time necessary to either verify or dispel the suspicion. United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 544 (1985) (approving warrantless detention for more than 24 hours of traveler suspected of alimentary canal drug smuggling).
  3.  Jump to essay-3United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 709 (1983).
  4.  Jump to essay-4462 U.S. at 706.
  5.  Jump to essay-5462 U.S. at 707. However, the search in Place was not expeditious, and hence exceeded Fourth Amendment bounds, when agents took 90 minutes to transport luggage to another airport for administration of the canine sniff. The length of a detention short of an arrest has similarly been a factor in other cases. Compare Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005) (a canine sniff around the perimeter of a car following a routine traffic stop does not offend the Fourth Amendment if the duration of the stop is justified by the traffic offense) with Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609, 1613, 1614–15 (2015) (finding that the stop in question had been prolonged for seven to eight minutes beyond the time needed to resolve the traffic offense in order to conduct a canine sniff).
  6.  Jump to essay-6Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491 (1983). On this much the plurality opinion of Justice White (id. at 503), joined by three other Justices, and the concurring opinion of Justice Brennan (id. at 509) were in agreement.
  7.  Jump to essay-7United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531 (1985).