Schneckloth v. Bustamonte

412 U.S. 218, 93 S. Ct. 2041 (1973)



The question whether a consent to a search was in fact "voluntary" or was the product of duress or coercion, express or implied, is a question of fact to be determined from the totality of all the circumstances. Knowledge of the right to refuse consent is only one factor, the government need not establish such knowledge as the sine qua non of an effective consent. As with police questioning, two competing concerns must be accommodated in determining the meaning of a "voluntary" consent--the legitimate need for such searches and the equally important requirement of assuring the absence of coercion.


A police officer stopped a car for traffic violations. Six men, including the accused, were in the car. After the six men had stepped out of the car at the officer's request, and after two more officers had arrived, the officer who had stopped the car asked the owner's brother if he could search the car. The owner's brother replied, "Sure, go ahead." The owner's brother helped in the search by opening the trunk and the glove compartment. The officers found some stolen checks under a seat. In a California state court, these checks were admitted in evidence at the accused's trial for possessing checks with intent to defraud despite the accused’s objection. The accused was convicted and his conviction were affirmed on appeal. The accused then filed a petition for habeas corpus on the ground that his conviction was based on evidence that had been acquired through a warrantless search and seizure, thus, were unconstitutional. The district court denied the accused's petition, but the court of appeals reversed, holding that in order for consent to the search to be held voluntary, it must be found that the person who consented to the search knew that he had a right to refuse such consent.


Is it necessary for the state to establish that the person who consented to the search knew that he had a right to refuse such consent?




The Court disagreed that proof of knowledge of the right to refuse consent was a necessary prerequisite to demonstrating "voluntary" consent. Rather, the Court held that individual consent could only be ascertained by analyzing all of the circumstances. The traditional definition of voluntariness, which the Court adhered to, did not require proof of knowledge of a right to refuse as the sine qua non of an effective consent to a search.

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