Schneckloth v. Bustamonte

Schneckloth v. Bustamonte

412 U.S. 218 (1973) [p. 263]

ISSUE: Must an individual be advised of his right to refuse consent to a search requested by police in order for the search to be reasonable under the 4th Amdt.?
HOLDING: No, the prosecution must only show that the consent was in fact voluntarily given and not the result of duress or coercion.
FACTS:
  • Officer pulled over a vehicle in which D and 5 other were driving for having only one headlight and for license plate light being out
  • Only one person could show a driver's license, and so the officer ordered the men out of the car
  • Alcala said the car was his brother's, and the officer asked if he could search the car. Alcala said "Sure, go ahead"
  • Officer then found three wadded up checks under the backseat
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • Trial ct. denied motion to suppress
  • Ct. App. for 9th Cir. concluded that a person must know that he has a right to refuse consent
REASONING:
  • Balance competing interests: Legitimate need for consent searches with equally important requirement of assuring absence of coercion
  • Too burdensome to prove knowledge: There might be rare cases where it could be proved that a person in fact affirmatively knew of his right to refuse
    • Near impossible prosecutorial burden
  • No need for knowing and intelligent waiver: Knowing and intelligent waivers are required to preserver fair trials, but 4th Amdt. protections are entirely different
    • Nothing constitutionally suspect in a person's voluntarily allowing a search
  • Search here valid: No evidence of coercion
  • Holding: When a subject of a search is not in custody and the State attempts to justify a search on the basis of his consent, the 4th Amdt. requires that it demonstrate that the consent was in fact voluntarily given and not the result of duress or coercion, express or implied. Voluntariness is a question of fact to be determined from all the circumstances, and while the subject's knowledge of the right to refuse is a factor, the prosecution needn't demonstrate knowledge of this right.
DISSENT - Brennan: How can someone meaningfully be said to have waived something as precious as a constitutional guarantee without ever being aware of its existence?
DISSENT - Marshall:
  • Prior cases simply do not support the view that a meaningful choice has been made solely because no coercion has been shown
  • Difficult to understand how a decision can be made without knowledge of available alternatives
  • At a minimum, the prosecution should have to prove knowledge of right to refuse consent
COMMENTS:
  • This case annoys me every time I encounter it. The prosecution does not need to prove the individual's knowledge of the right to refuse consent for a search (quite unlike the whole idea behind Miranda v. Arizona). However, consent still must be voluntarily (not "knowingly") given and not the result of duress or coercion, express or implied (e.g., an officer pointing a gun at someone will surely vitiate consent). This is a highly fact-specific inquiry (and thus a law school exam favorite).
NOTES:
  • United States v. Watson: (not to be confused with my brief of another United States v. Watson case) The prosecution does not have to prove knowledge of right to refuse consent even when individual is in custody
  • Ohio v. Robinette: 4th Amdt. does not require that a person who was lawfully seized be advised that he is free to go before consent to search will be recognized as voluntary
    • Rule for consent doesn't change if someone's in custody

 

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