Law School Case Brief
Ohio v. Robinette - 519 U.S. 33, 117 S. Ct. 417 (1996)
The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness. Reasonableness, in turn, is measured in objective terms by examining the totality of the circumstances.
After an Ohio deputy sheriff stopped respondent Robinette for speeding, gave him a verbal warning, and returned his driver's license, the deputy asked whether he was carrying illegal contraband, weapons, or drugs in his car. Robinette answered "no" and consented to a search of the car, which revealed a small amount of marijuana and a pill. He was arrested and later charged with knowing possession of a controlled substance when the pill turned out to be methylenedioxy-methamphetamine. Following denial of his pretrial suppression motion, he was found guilty, but the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the search resulted from an unlawful detention. The State Supreme Court affirmed, establishing as a bright-line prerequisite for consensual interrogation under these circumstances the requirement that an officer clearly state when a citizen validly detained for a traffic offense is "legally free to go." The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari to review this per se rule.
Did the Federal Constitution's Fourth Amendment require that a lawfully seized defendant be advised that defendant is "free to go" before defendant's consent to search will be recognized as voluntary?
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Fourth Amendment did not require that a lawfully seized defendant must be advised that he was "free to go" before his consent to search would be recognized as voluntary. The Court held that the officer was objectively justified in asking Robinette to get out of the car, subjective thoughts notwithstanding. The Court found that the touchstone inquiry was reasonableness measured in objective terms by examining the totality of the circumstances. The Court concluded that it would be unrealistic to require police officers to always inform detainees that they were free to go before consent to a search could be deemed voluntary. Voluntariness was a fact question to be determined from all the circumstances. The Court reversed.
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