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United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696 (1983)


When respondent’s behavior aroused the suspicion of law enforcement officers as he waited in line at the Miami International Airport to purchase a ticket to New York’s La Guardia Airport, the officers approached respondent and requested and received identification. Respondent consented to a search of the two suitcases he had checked, but, because his flight was about to depart, the officers decided not to search the luggage. The officers then found some discrepancies in the address tags on the luggage and called Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) authorities in New York to relay this information. Upon respondent’s arrival at La Guardia Airport, two DEA agents approached him, said that they believed he might be carrying narcotics, and asked for and received identification. When respondent refused to consent to a search of his luggage, one of the agents told him that they were going to take it to a federal judge to obtain a search warrant. The agents then took the luggage to Kennedy Airport where it was subjected to a “sniff test” by a trained narcotics detection dog which reacted positively to one of the suitcases. At this point, 90 minutes had elapsed since the seizure of the luggage. Thereafter, the agents obtained a search warrant for that suitcase and, upon opening it, discovered cocaine. Respondent was indicted for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and the District Court denied his motion to suppress the contents of the suitcase. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was convicted, but reserved the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the prolonged seizure of respondent’s luggage exceeded the limits of the type of investigative stop permitted by Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1, and hence amounted to a seizure without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Held: Under the circumstances, the seizure of respondent’s luggage violated the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, the evidence obtained from the subsequent search of the luggage was inadmissible, and respondent’s conviction must be reversed. Pp.  462 U. S. 700-710.

(a) 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 permit the officer to detain the luggage temporarily to investigate the circumstances that aroused the officer’s suspicion, 

Page 462 U. S. 697

provided that the investigative detention is properly limited in scope. Pp.  462 U. S. 700-706.

(b) The investigative procedure of subjecting luggage to a “sniff test” by a well-trained narcotics detection dog does not constitute a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Pp.  462 U. S. 706-707.

(c) When the police seize luggage from the suspect’s custody, the limitations applicable to investigative detentions of the person should define the permissible scope of an investigative detention of the luggage on less than probable cause. Under this standard, the police conduct here exceeded the permissible limits of a Terry-type investigative stop. The length of the detention of respondent’s luggage alone precludes the conclusion that the seizure was reasonable in the absence of probable cause. This Fourth Amendment violation was exacerbated by the DEA agents’ failure to inform respondent accurately 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. Pp.  462 U. S. 707-710.

660 F.2d 44, affirmed.

O’CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p.  462 U. S. 710. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p.  462 U. S. 720.