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Schneckloth v. Bustamonte

Supreme Court of the United States

October 10, 1972, Argued ; May 29, 1973, Decided

No. 71-732

Opinion

 [*219]  [**2043]  [***858]    MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

 It is well settled under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments that a search conducted without a warrant issued upon probable cause is "per se unreasonable . . . subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357; Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 454-455; Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 51. It is equally well settled that one of the specifically established exceptions to the requirements of both a warrant and probable cause is a search that is  [**2044]  conducted pursuant to consent. Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 593-594; Zap v. United States, 328 U.S. 624, 630. The constitutional question in the present case concerns the definition of "consent" in this Fourth and Fourteenth [****4]  Amendment context.

The respondent was brought to trial in a California court upon a charge of possessing a check with intent to defraud. 2 He 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. In response to the motion, the trial judge conducted an evidentiary hearing  [*220]  where it was established that the material in question had been acquired by the State under the following circumstances:

While on routine patrol in Sunnyvale, California, at approximately 2:40 in the morning, Police Officer James Rand stopped an automobile when he observed that one headlight and its license plate light were burned out. Six men were in the vehicle. Joe Alcala and the respondent, Robert Bustamonte, were in the front seat with Joe Gonzales, the driver. Three older men were seated in the rear. When, in response to the policeman's question, Gonzales could not produce [****5]  a driver's license, Officer Rand asked if any of the other five had any evidence of identification. Only Alcala produced a license, and he explained that the car was his brother's. After the six occupants had stepped out of the car at the officer's request and after two additional policemen had arrived, Officer Rand asked Alcala if he could search the car. Alcala replied, "Sure, go ahead." Prior to the  [***859]  search no one was threatened with arrest and, according to Officer Rand's uncontradicted testimony, it "was all very congenial at this time." Gonzales testified that Alcala actually helped in the search of the car, by opening the trunk and glove compartment. In Gonzales' words: "The police officer asked Joe [Alcala], he goes, 'Does the trunk open?' And Joe said, 'Yes.' He went to the car and got the keys and opened up the trunk." Wadded up under the left rear seat, the police officers found three checks that had previously been stolen from a car wash.

The trial judge denied the motion to suppress, and the checks in question were admitted in evidence at Bustamonte's trial. On the basis of this and other evidence he was convicted, and the California Court of Appeal [****6]  for the First Appellate District affirmed the conviction.  [*221]   270 Cal. App. 2d 648, 76 Cal. Rptr. 17. In agreeing that the search and seizure were constitutionally valid, the appellate court applied the standard earlier formulated by the Supreme Court of California in an opinion by then Justice Traynor: "Whether in a particular case an apparent consent was in fact voluntarily given or was in submission to an express or implied assertion of authority, is a question of fact to be determined in the light of all the circumstances." People v. Michael, 45 Cal. 2d 751, 753, 290 P. 2d 852, 854. The appellate court found that "in the instant case the prosecution met the necessary burden of showing consent . . . since there were clearly circumstances from which the trial court could ascertain that consent had been freely given without coercion or submission to authority.  Not only officer Rand, but Gonzales, the driver of the automobile, testified that Alcala's assent to the search of his brother's automobile was freely, even casually given. At the time of the request to search the automobile the atmosphere, according to Rand, was 'congenial' and [****7]  there had been no discussion of any crime. As noted, Gonzales said Alcala even attempted to aid in the search." 270 Cal. App. 2d, at 652, 76  [**2045]  Cal. Rptr., at 20. The California Supreme Court denied review. 3

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412 U.S. 218 *; 93 S. Ct. 2041 **; 36 L. Ed. 2d 854 ***; 1973 U.S. LEXIS 6 ****

SCHNECKLOTH, CONSERVATION CENTER SUPERINTENDENT v. BUSTAMONTE

Prior History:  [****1]  CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Disposition:  448 F.2d 699, reversed.

CORE TERMS

rights, habeas corpus, cases, circumstances, innocence, exclusionary rule, state court, consent search, right to refuse, custody, coercion, constitutional right, court of appeals, federal court, questioning, confession, federal habeas corpus, state prisoner, courts, intelligent, warnings, arrest, collateral attack, decisions, effective, searches, search and seizure, waived, relinquishment, proceedings

Criminal Law & Procedure, Commencement of Criminal Proceedings, Interrogation, Voluntariness, Miranda Rights, General Overview, Warrantless Searches, Consent to Search, Sufficiency & Voluntariness, Search & Seizure, Consent to Search, Search Warrants, Trials, Defendant's Rights, Right to Fair Trial, Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Counsel, Right to Counsel, Fundamental Rights, Scope of Protection, Criminal Process, Assistance of Counsel, Waiver, Proceedings, Civil Procedure, Judicial Officers, Judges, Standards, Governments, Courts, Judges, Self-Incrimination Privilege, Custodial Interrogation