Plain Feel Doctrine Frisking Suspects Cases
The United States Supreme Court first addressed the "plain-feel" doctrine in Dickerson. In Dickerson, two Minneapolis police officers noticed the defendant leaving a residence that they knew to be a "notorious crack house." 508 U.S. at 368.
The defendant was walking toward the officers, but immediately stopped and changed direction upon spotting them. the defendant then turned and entered an alley. Their suspicions aroused, the officers stopped the defendant. 508 U.S. at 368-369.
One of the officers pat-searched the defendant. the officer later testified: "As I pat-searched the front of his body, I felt a lump, a small lump, in the front pocket.
I examined it with my fingers and it slid and it felt to be a lump of crack cocaine in cellophane." 508 U.S. at 369.
The officer then retrieved the item from the defendant's pocket and discovered a small plastic bag containing crack cocaine. Id. the defendant challenged the seizure of the drugs.
In its decision, the United States Supreme Court reiterated its holding in Terry with regard to the permissible scope of an investigative stop and frisk. a police officer may briefly stop a person to make "'reasonable inquiries'" into unusual conduct that leads the officer to believe "'that criminal activity may be afoot.'" 508 U.S. at 373 (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 30).
If the officer believes that the individual may be carrying a weapon, he or she may conduct a pat-down search of the individual in the interest of officer safety.
However, "if the protective search goes beyond what is necessary to determine if the suspect is armed, it is no longer valid under Terry and its fruits will be suppressed." Id. (citing Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 65-66, 20 L. Ed. 2d 917, 88 S. Ct. 1889 (1968)).
In some instances, however, a police officer conducting a Terry search may seize contraband from the individual where its identification as contraband is "immediately apparent" to the officer.
This is analogous to the "plain-view" doctrine, where the officer's means of perception is sight rather than touch. 508 U.S. at 375-376.
The "plain-view" doctrine holds that "if police are lawfully in a position from which they view an object, if its incriminating character is immediately apparent, and if the officers have a lawful right of access to the object, they may seize it without a warrant." Dickerson, 508 U.S. at 375 (citing Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 136-37, 110 L. Ed. 2d 112, 110 S. Ct. 2301 (1990); Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S. 730, 739, 75 L. Ed. 2d 502, 103 S. Ct. 1535 (1983)). However, if the incriminating character of the item is not immediately apparent, the officer may not seize it. Id.
The Court applied this "plain-feel" doctrine to the facts in Dickerson. the record showed that the Minneapolis police officer did not claim that he suspected the object might be a weapon.
In fact, the officer's testimony revealed that he did not "immediately" recognize the lump to be crack cocaine. the identification of the object as contraband came only after the officer manipulated the object within the defendant's pocket " a pocket which the officer already knew contained no weapon." 508 U.S. at 378.
The Court concluded that the manipulation of the object in the defendant's pocket amounted to an unconstitutional search because the officer continued to feel the pocket after determining that no weapon was present. Id. Therefore, the Court affirmed the suppression of the cocaine evidence. 508 U.S. at 379.