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Bumper v. North Carolina

Citation. Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543, 88 S. Ct. 1788, 20 L. Ed. 2d 797, 46 Ohio Op. 2d 382 (U.S. June 3, 1968)
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Brief Fact Summary.

An individual was accused of rape and one piece of evidence used to accuse him was a .22-caliber rifle found in his grandmothers home.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

“A search conducted in reliance upon a warrant cannot later be justified on the basis of consent if it turns out that the warrant was invalid.”


The petitioner lived with his grandmother, a 66-year-old negro widow, in a rural area. Two days after an alleged rape, four white police officers went to the widow’s house and her that they had a search warrant to search her house. She told them they could conduct their search and they found a .22 caliber rifle gun eventually introduced into evidence.
During a suppression hearing, the four officers testified that they relied not on the search warrant, but on the widow’s consent to conduct their search. The widow testified that she believed the officers had a valid search and that she did not know her grandson was being accused of anything when the search was conducted. The trial court found that the widow consented to the search.


“[W]hether a search can be justified as lawful on the basis of consent when that ‘consent’ has been given only after the official conducting the search has asserted that he possesses a warrant?


No, “there can be no consent under such circumstances.”
“When a prosecutor seeks to rely upon consent to justify the lawfulness of a search, he has the burden of proving that the consent was, in fact, freely and voluntarily given. This burden cannot be discharged by showing no more than acquiescence to a claim of lawful authority. A search conducted in reliance upon a warrant cannot later be justified on the basis of consent if it turns out that the warrant was invalid. The result can be no different when it turns out that the State does not even attempt to rely upon the validity of the warrant, or fails to show that there was, in fact, any warrant at all.”
“When a law enforcement officer claims authority to search a home under a warrant, he announces in effect that the occupant has no right to resist the search. The situation is instinct with coercion – albeit colorably lawful coercion. Where there is coercion there cannot be consent.”


It is interesting to recognize that the court in a footnote observed “Mrs. Leath owned both the house and the rifle. The petitioner concedes that her voluntary consent to the search would have been binding upon him. Conversely, there can be no question of the petitioner’s standing to challenge the lawfulness of the search. He was the ‘one against whom the search was directed,’ and the house searched was his home. The rifle was used by all members of the household and was found in the common part of the house.”

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