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United States v. Place

decided: September 16, 1981; As Amended October 8, 1981.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
RAYMOND J. PLACE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT .



Appeal from a judgment of conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), entered in the Eastern District of New York, Thomas C. Platt, Judge (498 F. Supp. 1217). Reversed .

Before Kaufman, Mansfield and Oakes, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mansfield

The pivotal question raised by this appeal is whether a warrantless government seizure of a person's effects for a substantial period of time upon reasonable suspicion but without probable cause violates his Fourth Amendment rights. We hold that it does.

Raymond J. Place appeals from a judgment of conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), entered in the Eastern District of New York by Judge Thomas C. Platt after denial by a Memorandum and Order, 498 F. Supp. 1217, of his motion to suppress the contents of luggage seized from him at LaGuardia Airport, and his subsequent plea of guilty with reservation of his right to appeal the ruling on his motion to suppress. Place contends that in violation of the Fourth Amendment law enforcement officers stopped him at both Miami International and LaGuardia Airports without specific articulable facts justifying a reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in unlawful activity and that they made a warrantless seizure of his suitcases at LaGuardia Airport without probable cause. Since the warrantless LaGuardia seizure of his suitcases without probable cause was unreasonable, precluding their being used as evidence against him, we reverse.

On Friday, August 17, 1979, Place entered the Miami International Airport for the purpose of boarding a National Airlines flight to New York's LaGuardia Airport. While on line to purchase his ticket he attracted the attention of two Dade County detectives who were observing passengers in the terminal. The officers observed him scanning the area of the terminal and noticed that he appeared extremely nervous. They watched him for 20 minutes while he stood on line for his ticket and noticed that he in turn was beginning to watch them, although he pretended not to do so.

After Place had purchased his ticket and checked his bags, the detectives separated. One followed Place as he headed for the departure gate, the other went to check the name on Place's baggage. Place did not, however, proceed directly to the departure gate. Instead he walked part of the way there, turned around, walked around the waiting room in a circle while looking over his shoulder, and then stopped in a rest room.

The two detectives rejoined at this point, and, when Place came out of the rest room shortly thereafter, they followed him to the airline security checkpoint. At this point the agents proceeded to approach Place, asking him his name and requesting that he produce identification. He gave both. The detectives explained that they were investigating narcotics traffic and requested the right to examine Place's baggage. Place said that he did not use narcotics, that he did not have any in his baggage, and that the detectives were welcome to examine that baggage. Because there were only five minutes left before Place's flight to New York, the detectives did not search the bags and bid him farewell. As they parted Place turned around and said to the officers that he had recognized that they were policemen.

This remark caused the detectives to rush to the baggage loading area and re-examine Place's bags. In so doing they noted Place's address on the bags and observed a slight discrepancy between the street numbers given on the two bags. The detectives then obtained from National Airlines the call back number Place had given it for his reservation. They called the police department of Hallendale, Florida, the town in which the baggage addresses were located, and inquired whether those addresses existed and what the address associated with the phone number was. They were informed that neither address existed but that the number was that of a third address on the same street.

On the basis of this incident and the information they had obtained, the detectives called Special Agent Gerard Whitmore of the New York office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). They informed Whitmore of the events that transpired at Miami International Airport and of the information they had obtained about Place.

Relying on this information, Agent Whitmore and another DEA agent, Alfredo Iglesias, waited for Place at the National Airlines arrival gate in LaGuardia Airport. They recognized Place among the passengers arriving at the gate from the description they had received. He was engaged in a conversation with another passenger as he and that passenger walked through the terminal. While the two walked through the terminal, Place surveyed the area around him, as he had done in Miami. Fearing that he would spot them if they continued observing him, the agents proceeded to the baggage claim area, awaiting his arrival.

Place soon arrived near the baggage claim area, but did not enter it. Instead he stood outside, again scanning the area. When the flight's luggage arrived he entered the area. After fiddling with the handle of one bag, he picked up his two bags and walked out of the area. The two agents followed him, but were careful to avoid appearing to do so. Place walked to the TWA baggage claim area, continuing his scanning as he went. When he arrived there he used one of the telephones, apparently to call a limousine.

Agent Whitmore now decided to interview Place. He and Agent Iglesias walked up to Place and identified themselves as federal narcotics agents. Place responded by saying that he had known that the two were "cops." He then asked why he was being stopped and was told it was because, based on information from the Dade County police and on their own observations, the agents suspected him carrying narcotics. Place did not say anything and Agent Iglesias asked him if the bags he was carrying were his. He replied that they were.

At this point Place stated that a number of police at the Miami Airport had surrounded him and searched his baggage. This was contrary to what the agents had been advised by the Dade County detectives. Whitmore stated that he had understood that Place had not been searched. Place replied that that understanding was incorrect; he had, he claimed, been searched. The agents then asked for and Place produced identification a New Jersey driver's license and his airline ticket receipt.

Agent Whitmore now asked Place if he would consent to a search of his baggage. Place refused. Whitmore told Place that the agents were "going to take the luggage to a neutral party, to a Federal Judge, to make a determination as to whether or not there was probable cause for a search warrant." Place was also told that he was free to accompany the agents on this trip. It was then that Agent Iglesias took the driver's license to run a computer check on it, which revealed no violations.

When Iglesias returned he again asked Place if the bags were his. Place said that the larger of the bags was definitely his but that he was unsure about the smaller because it had had his name tag on it in Miami and the tag was no longer attached. After the agents asked Place to provide the combinations of the bags' locks, which he refused to do, Iglesias picked up the bags and Whitmore gave Place a piece of paper with his office number and a 24-hour emergency number at which he could be reached. Place then ran after Iglesias and demanded that he give his name and badge number. Iglesias gave his name and said that he could be reached at the same telephone numbers.

The agents put the bags in the car and drove to Kennedy Airport, leaving at about 4:10 P.M. and arriving approximately 35 minutes later. After a delay in finding a dog handler, the suitcases were subjected to a "sniff test" by "Honey," a dog trained to detect controlled substances. At about 5:30 or 5:40 P.M. Honey reacted positively to (i.e., detected a controlled substance in) the smaller bag and neither positively nor negatively to the larger. Agent Whitmore contacted the United States Attorney's office and asked for ...


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