Schneckloth v. Bustamonte Case Brief

Summary of Schneckloth v. Bustamonte 412 U.S. 218 (1973) RM pg. 80

STATEMENT OF THE CASE: D, who was brought to trial upon a charge of possessing a check with intent to defraud, moved to suppress the introduction of certain material as evidence against him on the ground that the material had been acquired through an unconstitutional search and seizure.

PROCEDURE BELOW: Petitioner sought review from a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which vacated order denying a writ of habeas corpus to respondent and remanded case for further proceedings, holding that consent could not be found solely from the absence of coercion and a verbal expression of assent. The Court reversed the decision of the court below, reinstating the affirmation of respondent’s conviction and denial of writ of habeas corpus to respondent, on the grounds that the determination of voluntariness did not require proof of knowledge of a right to refuse as the sine qua non of an effective consent to a search.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS: An officer on a routine patrol at 2:30 in the morning observed an automobile with a broken headlight. He stopped the car, and the driver was unable to produce a driver’s license. There were five other passengers, and only one could produce a license. The officer asked that person (who said that the car was his brother’s) if he could search the car. The person allowed him to search, and the officer found three stolen checks. Bustamonte (D) was convicted after these checks were admitted into evidence at his trial. The California Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction. D sought a writ of habeas corpus in a federal district court. He was denied, but the Court of Appeals set aside the district court’s order. Schneckloth (P) appealed.

LEGAL ISSUE: Must the State always demonstrate that consent to search was voluntarily given?

HOLDING: When the subject of a search is not in custody and the State attempts to justify a search on the basis of his consent, the 4th and 14th Amendments require that it demonstrate that the consent was in fact voluntarily given, and not the result of duress or coercion, express or implied.

REASONING: (Stewart, J.) No. When the subject of a search is not in custody and the State attempts to justify a search on the basis of his consent, the 4th and 14th Amendments require that it demonstrate that the consent was in fact voluntarily given, and not the result of duress or coercion, express or implied. The Due Process Clause does not require the state to prove that the defendant knew he had a right to refuse to answer questions. His state of mind and the police’s failure to advise him of his rights are certainly factors, but are not in themselves determinative. There are two competing concerns when determining voluntary consent: the legitimate need for such searches, and the equally important requirement of assuring the absence of coercion. In order to satisfy both concerns, then, one must determine voluntariness as a question of fact from all the circumstances surrounding the case; all available facts. While the subject’s knowledge of a right to refuse is a! factor to be taken into account, the prosecution is not required to demonstrate such knowledge as a prerequisite to establishing a voluntary consent. In this case, there is no evidence of any inherently coercive tactics. There is no reason to believe that the response to the policeman’s question was coerced, and there was no reason to reject the traditional test for determining the voluntariness of a person’s response. Affirmed, for D.

DISSENT: (Marshall, J.) This case deals with consent, not coercion. The police should advise the suspect of his rights to refuse consent.

LEGAL ANALYSIS: Consent searches do not require a police warning. The Court specifically limited this case. The dissent is concerned with a defendant’s knowing and intelligent waiver of rights. If one were to believe that if the police were authorized to search under consent only if they warned of that right and that the decision to refuse would be respected and that such a warning would result in very few people giving the consent; then logically one could assume that most people giving such uninformed consent were not giving it knowingly and willingly.



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