Florida v. Bostick
Decided on June 20, 1991; 501 US 429


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Criminal Justice (drugs), 4th Amendment
 

B. Legal Question Presented: 

Is it a violation of the 4th Amendment's clause against unconstitutional search and seizure for police officers to conduct random bus searches pursuant to passengers' consent?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

As part of a routine drug interdiction effort, Broward County Sheriff's Department officers boarded a bus and requested passenger Terrance Bostick’s consent to search his luggage for drugs. Although officers advised the passenger of his right to refuse, Bostick gave his permission for the search. Officers found cocaine in Bostick’s luggage and arrested him on drug trafficking charges.

Trial court denied Bostick’s motion to suppress the charges on the ground that cocaine was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Florida Court of Appeals affirmed lower court’s decision.  On certiorari, Florida's State Supreme Court adopted a per se rule that the sheriff's practice of 'working the buses' is unconstitutional.


The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the lower courts' dispute.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Joan Fowler, Assistant Attorney General of Florida, argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the brief was Attorney General Robert A. Butterworth. Donald B. Ayer argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Robert H. Klonoff.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
The American Civil Liberties Union, et al., filed an amici curiae brief urging affirmance by Mary Irene Coombs, Steven R. Sharpiro, John A. Powell, James K. Green, Jefferey S. Weiner, and Robert G. Amsel Solicitor General Starr filed an amici curiae brief urging reversal.  With him on the brief were Assistant Attorney General Mueller, Deputy Solicitor General Bryson, Christopher J. Wright, and Kathleen A. Felton.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The Florida Supreme Court erred in adopting a per se rule that every encounter on a bus is a seizure... no 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...

[T]he encounter is consensual, and no reasonable suspicion is required. The encounter will not trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny unless it loses its consensual nature...

[R]efusal to cooperate… does not furnish the minimal level of objective justification needed for a detention or seizure...

Whether a particular encounter constitutes a seizure, a court must consider all the circumstances surrounding the encounter to determine whether the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that the person was not free to decline the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the encounter."

Held: Florida State Supreme Court judgment is reversed
Justice Vote: 3 Pro vs. 6 Con

  • O’Connor, S.  Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W.  Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A.  Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A.  Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B.  Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D.  Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T.  Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Stevens, J.  Pro (Joined Marshall’s dissent)
  • Blackmun, H.  Pro (Joined Marshall’s dissent)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the Supreme Court reversed the ruling in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.