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Law School Case Brief

Florida v. Bostick - 501 U.S. 429, 111 S. Ct. 2382 (1991)


A seizure does not occur simply because a police officer approaches an individual and asks a few questions. So long as a reasonable person would feel free to disregard the police and go about his business, the encounter is consensual and no reasonable suspicion is required. The encounter will not trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny unless it loses its consensual nature. Not all personal intercourse between policemen and citizens involves "seizures" of persons. Only when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen may we conclude that a "seizure" has occurred. Mere police questioning does not constitute a seizure.


As part of a drug interdiction effort, Broward County Sheriff's Department officers routinely board buses at scheduled stops and ask passengers for permission to search their luggage. Two officers boarded respondent Bostick's bus and, without articulable suspicion, questioned him and requested his consent to search his luggage for drugs, advising him of his right to refuse. He gave his permission, and the officers, after finding cocaine, arrested Bostick on drug trafficking charges. His motion to suppress the cocaine on the ground that it had been seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment was denied by the trial court. The Florida Court of Appeal affirmed, but certified a question to the State Supreme Court. That court, reasoning that a reasonable passenger would not have felt free to leave the bus to avoid questioning by the police, adopted a per se rule that the sheriff's practice of "working the buses" is unconstitutional. Petitioner State obtained a writ of certiorari for the review of a decision by the Supreme Court of Florida, which reversed Bostick's plea of guilty for drug trafficking and held that the illegal drugs found in Bostick's luggage should have been suppressed because Bostick's consent to the search of his luggage was involuntary.


Did the Police officers' request that Broward consent to search of luggage necessarily constitute "seizure" for purposes of Fourth Amendment?




The United States Supreme Court held that if the police indicated that Bostick was free to refuse consent and terminate the encounter, and that the police would not detain him if he refused, his consent was voluntary. Because there was no finding by the lower court using that standard, the court reversed the decision of the state supreme court and remanded the case to determine if, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person would have felt free to refuse to cooperate with the police, and thus determine if respondent's consent was voluntary.

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