Florida v Royer
460 U.S. 491, 103 S. Ct. 1319, 75 L. Ed.2d 229 (1983)

  • Royer was at the airport. The police felt that he ‘fit the description’ of a typical drug courier. They stopped him and asked for his identification. When the name on Royer’s driver’s license didn’t match the name on his ticket, the police took him to a back room, got his luggage, and told Royer they suspected him of carrying drugs.
    • They took him to the back room without his consent, and did not return his ticket or his license.
    • Btw, today it is illegal to travel under an assumed name, back then it was legal (although suspicious).
  • The police asked for a consent search of his luggage and Royer gave them the key. Inside the luggage were some drugs. Royer was arrested.
  • The Trial Court convicted Royer of drug possession. He appealed.
    • Royer argued that since he did not give consent to be taken to the back room, the police violated his 4th Amendment rights by seizing him. Therefore all the evidence should be thrown out.
  • The Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction. The prosecutor appealed.
    • The Florida Supreme Court found that Royer had been involuntarily confined without probable cause, and therefore his consent to search the luggage was involuntary.
      • The Court noted that a reasonable person would not have felt free to leave.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that there was no probable cause, and therefore the police required consent to search the luggage.
      • The Court noted that it is the prosecutor’s burden to show that consent was freely and voluntarily given, and that a showing of mere submission to a claim of lawful authority is insufficient.
    • The Court compared this situation to a Terry stop (see Terry v. Ohio (392 U.S. 1 (1968)), and found that it is permissible for the police to briefly stop and question someone on reasonable suspicion, but the stop must be temporary and last no longer than necessary. In this case, moving Royer to a back room and involuntarily detaining him exceeded the police authority and therefore constituted an illegal detention.
      • See Dunaway v. New York (442 U.S. 200 (1979)).
    • The Court found that consent cannot be given while a person is being illegally detained. Therefore the consent search was invalid and the evidence should be suppressed.
    • The Court noted that there were other, less intrusive means that the police could have used, such as drug sniffing dogs.
      • Courts have generally held that the police must use reasonably available, least intrusive means when conducting a search based on less than probable cause.
  • In a dissent it was argued that there should be a totality of the circumstances test, where the courts balance the amount of inconvenience to the subject with the amount of reasonable suspicion that the police had, as well as the societal interests in fighting crime.
    • Basically, there should be no bright-line rule about what the police can and cannot do. Instead there should be a sliding scale where the amount of intrusion is related to the amount of suspicion.
  • This case helped the courts to define the difference between an arrest and a stop.
    • A stop is allowed on reasonable suspicion and doesn’t require probable cause, because it is supposed to be less intrusive than an arrest.
    • In this case, the Court found that the police action was more like an arrest than a stop, so reasonable suspicion was not enough.
      • See United States v. Place (462 U.S. 696 (1983)).