Brief Fact Summary. Detectives stopped and questioned respondent Mark Royer after figuring out he fit the profile of a person transporting illegal drugs, and then asked him to accompany them to a small room about 40 feet away. Fifteen minutes later, he consented to search of his bags.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A police officer asking a suspect to accompany them to a small police room, taking their ticket and driver’s license and not mentioning that they are free to leave, has exceeded the scope of a valid stop based on reasonable suspicion under Terry.
First, by returning his ticket and driver's license, and informing him that he was free to go if he so desired, the officers might have obviated any claim that the encounter was anything but a consensual matter from start to finish.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Is the permissible extent under the Fourth Amendment of a temporary Terry stop exceeded when a police officer asks a person suspected of criminal activity to go into a small closed room without telling them they may leave and they end up there for fifteen minutes?
Can a search subsequent to an invalid detention be validly consented to under the Fourth Amendment?
Held. Affirm the judgment of the lower court that the detention and search was invalid.
Police may not carry out a full search of a person merely but appropriately suspected of criminal activity, nor may they seek to verify their suspicions by means approaching that of a full-fledged arrest. This detention was a more serious intrusion on his personal liberty than that that is allowable based on mere reasonable suspicion as the least intrusive investigatory means should be used in such stops.
Since the detective’s actions are held to exceed the permissible bounds of an investigative stop, the respondent’s consent to the search of his suitcase is invalid, and the evidence found as a result is the “fruit of the poisonous tree” and must be excluded.
Dissent. Justice Harry Blackmun expressed his view that the police conduct here was not all that intrusive, and given the strength of the public interest in apprehending and prosecuting drug traffickers, probable cause should not have been necessary for the type of stop that these police officers completed.
Justice William Rehnquist also dissented by saying that the conduct of the detectives was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
Concurrence. Justice Lewis Franklin Powell articulated the view that although protecting the public from drug traffickers was important, this suspect was actually under arrest, and his allowing the search of his luggage was therefore not really consensual.
Justice William Brennan stated his opinion that not only was the suspect’s consent to the search illegal, but the stop was, as well.
Discussion. This case seems to have had the impact of further clarifying what the limits of a Terry stop were. But there definitely is the argument that it has not been that successful at doing so since it is unclear whether the fifteen minutes he was held in the room can be used as a guideline, or even whether the fact that he was moved to another location was what was fatal under the Fourth Amendment. The case may arguably leave the system with not much more than one of its only clear statements: that the investigative methods employed should be the least intrusive means reasonably available to verify or dispel an officer’s suspicion.