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Florida v. Bostick

Law Dictionary

Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Criminal Procedure keyed to Weinreb

Citation. Florida v. Bostick, 111 S. Ct. 241, 1990 U.S. LEXIS 5131, 498 U.S. 894, 112 L. Ed. 2d 201, 59 U.S.L.W. 3275 (U.S. Oct. 9, 1990)

Brief Fact Summary. Police officers, without an articulable suspicion, approached an individual on a bus and asked him questions and to search his luggage.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. “[N]o seizure occurs when police ask questions of an individual, ask to examine the individual’s identification, and request consent to search his or her luggage — so long as the officers do not convey a message that compliance with their requests is required.”

Facts. Police officers boarded a bus on route to Atlanta from Miami and discovered cocaine in a suitcase belonging to Terrance Bostwick (“Mr. Bostwick”). The police officers approached Mr. Bostwick without an articulable suspicion. The officers identified themselves as narcotics agents, inspected his ticket which matched his identification, but still asked Mr. Bostwick’s permission to search his bags.
The majority concentrated on two facts. First, “the police specifically advised Bostick that he had the right to refuse consent.” Second, “at no time did the officers threaten Bostick with a gun.”
The police arrested Mr. Bostwick and charged him with trafficking in cocaine. He moved to suppress the cocaine arguing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The trial court denied Mr. Bostwick’s motion to suppress and he then pled guilty, but reserved the right to appeal the motion to suppress ruling.
The Florida District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling, but certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court. The “Florida Supreme Court reasoned that Bostick had been seized because a reasonable passenger in his situation would not have felt free to leave the bus to avoid questioning by the police.” The court ruled “categorically that an impermissible seizure result[s] when police mount a drug search on buses during scheduled stops and question boarded passengers without articulable reasons for doing so, thereby obtaining consent to search the passengers’ luggage.” In other words, “the Florida Supreme Court adopted a per se rule that the Broward County Sheriff’s practice of ”working the buses’ is unconstitutional.” Because the opinion was limited to busses, “police in Florida, as elsewhere, may approach persons at random in most public places, ask them questions and seek consent to a search, but they may not engage in the same behavior on a bus.”

Issue. Can officers approach individuals at random on buses to ask them questions and to request consent to search their luggage so long as a reasonable person would understand that he or she could refuse to cooperate?

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