Schneckloth v. Bustamonte 412 U.S. 218 (1973)

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The police may conduct a search without a warrant when consent is freely given. Before Schneckloth, some lower courts had taken the position that consent was not voluntary unless the prosecution could demonstrate that the person was aware of his right to refuse consent. Others held that knowledge of the right to refuse was merely one element to be considered, and that consent was established by the totality of the circumstances. In Schneckloth the Supreme Court adopted the latter position.

The Court distinguished the fourth amendment from other constitutional guarantees (for example, the right to counsel) for which the Court had required an intentional relinquishment of the right. The other guarantees intend to promote the ascertainment of truth in a trial; the Fourth Amendment, on the other hand, does not promote pursuit of truth but secures privacy. The requirement of miranda rule warnings prior to police interrogation was also an inapposite analogy, for the coercion inherent in a custodial environment is unlikely to be duplicated "on a person's own familiar territory."

Justice lewis powell, concurring, set forth views later adopted by the Court in stone v. powell (1976), proposing radical restrictions on the use of habeas corpus to review Fourth Amendment violations by state officers. Three dissenting Justices took the position that mere absence of coercion is not the equivalent of a meaningful choice; that "a decision made without actual knowledge of available alternatives" is not "a choice at all."

Jacob W. Landynski

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Schneckloth v. Bustamonte 412 U.S. 218 (1973)

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