Florida v. Bostick

Florida v. Bostick Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
501 U.S. 429 (1991)

ISSUE: Is a categorical per se rule that an impermissible "seizure" results when police mount a drug search on a bus during a scheduled stop and question boarded passengers without articulable reasons for doing so and thereby obtain consent to search the passengers' bags consistent with the 4th Amdt.?
HOLDING: No.
FACTS:
  • D was a passenger on a bus from Miami to Atlanta when the bus stopped in Ft. Lauderdale to pick up additional passengers
  • 2 agents boarded the bus in bright green jackets with one holding a zippered pouch containing a gun
  • The agents approached D, asked for his ID and ticket, and then asked for permission to search D's bag -- D agreed and contraband was found
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • Trial court denied motion to suppress
  • Florida Sup. Ct. found a seizure because a reasonable person in D's position would not have felt free to leave the bus to avoid questioning by the police
    • Adopted a per se rule for dragnet bus searches
RULES:
  • No seizure: No seizure occurs when police ask questions of an individual, ask to examine the individual's identification, and request consent to search his luggage so long as the officers do not convey a message that compliance with their requests is required
REASONING:
  • Use different standard: When a person is seated on a bus, the standard that assesses when a reasonable person would feel free to leave is an inaccurate measure of the coercive effect of the encounter
    • Appropriate inquiry is whether a reasonable person would feel free to decline the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the encounter
  • Remand for seizure: Since the Fla. Sup. Ct. adopted a per se rule without assessing the totality of the circumstances here, remand for determining if "seizure" occurred
  • Seizure rule: In order to determine whether a particular encounter constitutes a seizure, a court must consider all the circumstances surrounding the encounter to determine whether the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that the person was not free to decline the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the encounter
DISSENT - Marshall:
  • Cannot agree that a reasonable person would feel free to decline the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the encounter
  • Facts exhibit all of the elements of coercion associated with a typical bus sweep
  • Question is whether a reasonable person would have felt free to terminate the antecedent encounter with the police, not to deny consent for the search of his luggage
    • Saying no would have only elevated the officers' suspicions
    • Nowhere to go
    • Doesn't matter that the guns weren't pointed at D
COMMENTS:
  • Bostick alters the Mendenhall "seizure" test for the bus-sweep context since a bus passenger is not really able to terminate the encounter with the police and go about her business when the police are basically blocking the aisles. Thus, the test to be applied in these contexts is whether a reasonable person would feel free to decline the officers' requests and otherwise terminate the encounter.
  • Like the majority of constitutional criminal procedure, the inquiry here is fact-intensive. If the officers approach a bus passenger with guns drawn and request "consent" to search the passenger's effects, any subsequently-given "consent" will surely be vitiated by the implied coercion. However, officers simply blocking the aisles will probably not be enough to invalidate a passenger's consent.

 

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