Brief Fact Summary. A police search of bus passengers revealed drugs in the defendant’s bags and on his person.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “The Fourth Amendment does not require police officers to advise bus passengers of their right not to cooperate and to refuse consent to searches.”
Issue. “[W]hether officers must advise bus passengers during these encounters of their right not to cooperate.”
Held. No. Under precedent, Florida v. Bostick, “if a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter, then he or she has not been seized.” A determination of when this is true “necessitates a consideration of “all the circumstances surrounding the encounter.” The Supreme Court then held the erred Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals when adopting the approach that the officer MUST warn the passengers that they may refuse to cooperate in an interdiction search. In the present matter, “there was no application of force, no intimidating movement, no overwhelming show of force, no brandishing of weapons, no blocking of exits, no threat, no command, not even an authoritative tone of voice.” The officer’s badge is not intimidating on its face, as officers wear uniforms, as well as side-arms. The officer at the front of the bus did nothing to intimidate passengers. The fact “only a few passengers have refused to cooperate does not suggest that a reasonable person would not
feel free to terminate the bus encounter.”
Drayton argued that after Brown had been taken into custody “no reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter with the officers.” The court held that “the arrest of one person does not mean that everyone around him has been seized by police,”, and that if anything, “Brown’s arrest should have put Drayton on notice of the consequences of continuing the encounter by answering the officers’ questions.”
The search itself, under the circumstances, was voluntary.
Dissent. J. Souter, joined by J. Stevens and J. Ginsburg, focused on the fact that the driver, after a scheduled stop, took the passengers’ tickets as they re-boarded, and then left the bus to allow the officers to search. As such, the respondents reasonably believed that they had no choice but to consent to a search.
Discussion. “In a society based on law, the concept of agreement and consent should be given a weight and dignity of its own. Police officers act in full accord with the law when they ask citizens for consent. It reinforces the rule of law for the citizen to advise the police of his or her wishes and for the police to act in reliance on that understanding. When this exchange takes place, it dispels inferences of coercion.”