Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 10 (1993)

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Cite as: 508 U. S. 366 (1993)

Opinion of the Court

of Terry stop). Under that doctrine, 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. See Horton v. California, 496 U. S. 128, 136-137 (1990); Texas v. Brown, 460 U. S. 730, 739 (1983) (plurality opinion). If, however, the police lack probable cause to believe that an object in plain view is contraband without conducting some further search of the object—i. e., if "its incriminating character [is not] 'immediately apparent,' " Horton, supra, at 136—the plain-view doctrine cannot justify its seizure. Arizona v. Hicks, 480 U. S. 321 (1987).

We think that this doctrine has an obvious application by analogy to cases in which an officer discovers contraband through the sense of touch during an otherwise lawful search. The rationale of the plain-view doctrine is that if contraband is left in open view and is observed by a police officer from a lawful vantage point, there has been no invasion of a legitimate expectation of privacy and thus no "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment—or at least no search independent of the initial intrusion that gave the officers their vantage point. See Illinois v. Andreas, 463 U. S. 765, 771 (1983); Texas v. Brown, supra, at 740. The warrantless seizure of contraband that presents itself in this manner is deemed justified by the realization that resort to a neutral magistrate under such circumstances would often be impracticable and would do little to promote the objectives of the Fourth Amendment. See Hicks, supra, at 326-327; Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U. S. 443, 467- 468, 469-470 (1971) (opinion of Stewart, J.). The same can be said of tactile discoveries of contraband. If a police officer lawfully pats down a suspect's outer clothing and feels an object whose contour or mass makes its identity immediately apparent, there has been no invasion of the suspect's privacy beyond that already authorized by the officer's search for weapons; if the object is contraband, its warrantless seizure


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