Schneckloth v. Bustamonte
412 U.S. 218, 93 S.Ct. 2041,
36 L.Ed.2d 854 (1973)

Officer James Rand stopped a car with six occupants and received consent from the driver to search the vehicle. It was determined that the officer did not pressure the driver into consenting. In the back seat he found three checks which had been stolen from a car wash. Defendant Robert Bustamonte challenged his arrest, arguing that while he had consented voluntarily, he had not been informed of his right not to consent to the search.

In Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, the Supreme Court ruled that consent is valid as long as it is voluntarily given. The ruling held that police may not use threats or coercion to obtain consent, but that they need not inform suspects of their right not to consent to a search. In reaching this decision, the Court rejected the stricter “waiver test,” which holds that suspects must be fully informed of their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures before they can give valid consent.

As demonstrated by the Court in the Schneckloth ruling, the police are under no obligation to inform citizens of their Fourth Amendment rights when requesting to perform a search. This means it’s up to the individual to understand and exercise their right not to be searched. Some states require that police obtain the citizen’s signature on a waiver form before conducting a search. But in most places police merely need to obtain the citizen’s verbal permission. This can be a tricky situation because police will sometimes interpret a broad range of statements or actions as implied consent.

Here’s what you should remember about police search requests:

   1. According to the Fourth Amendment, you cannot be searched without a warrant or probable cause, unless you consent. You always have the right to refuse consent.

   2. The officer cannot “make things easier” for you if you consent. Consenting makes it easier for the officer to arrest you.

   3. If you consent to a search, any evidence found can be used against you in court.

   4. If you don’t consent to a search and the officer searches you anyway, your lawyer can get the evidence thrown out in court.

   5. You cannot get in trouble or become a criminal suspect for refusing to be searched.

   6. The officer cannot detain you unless he has reasonable suspicion to believe you’re involved in something illegal.