United States v. Drayton
536 U.S. 194, 122 S. Ct. 2105, 153 L. Ed.2d 242 (2002)

  • Drayton and Brown were on a bus. When the bus made a scheduled stop, three policemen got on and went up and down the aisle asking people questions.
    • The policemen made sure not to block the aisle, so people could leave if they wanted to, but they didn’t explicitly say that people were free to chose not to cooperate.
  • The policemen asked for consent to search Brown’s duffel bag, which he gave. There was no contraband in the bag. Then the policeman noticed that Drayton and Brown were wearing baggy clothing. He asked if he could pat them down, they agreed, and the policeman found that they were both carrying drugs in their pants. They were arrested.
    • Ironically, the policeman claimed his suspicions were raised because Drayton and Brown were being “overly cooperative.”
  • The Trial Court convicted Drayton and Brown of drug possession. They appealed.
    • The prosecutor argued that this was a consent search, but Drayton argued that because of the conditions of the bus, he couldn’t leave and therefore he had been seized in violation of his 4th Amendment rights.
      • If Drayton had gotten off the bus, he would have been stranded.
  • The Florida Supreme Court overturned the convictions. The prosecutor appealed.
    • The Florida Supreme Court found that due to the cramped confines of the bus, the act of questioning would deprive a person of his freedom of movement and so constitute a seizure under the 4th Amendment. Therefore there could be no consent search because Drayton was being held involuntarily and could therefore not give consent.
      • This was a per se rule, aka a bright-line rule, the Court was saying that all searches on buses are improper unless the police gave an explicit warning that they could refuse consent.
        • The Florida Supreme Court had previously ruled that all searches were improper, regardless of warning, but that had been overturned by Florida v. Bostick (501 U.S. 429 (1991)).
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and upheld the convictions.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Drayton was free to terminate the encounter and leave the bus. Therefore he was not being held involuntarily, and the consent search was valid.
    • The Court rejected the use of per se rules and said that each individual case must be examined based on the totality of the circumstances.
    • The Court found that the proper inquiry about whether a consent search was coerced or not was whether a reasonable person would feel free to decline the police’s request and terminate the encounter (an objective standard).
      • In this case, the Court examined the evidence and found that a reasonable person in Drayton’s position would not have felt compelled to give consent.
      • In a dissent it was argued that a reasonable person would not have felt that they could say no to the policeman.
        • Police, because they have a badge and a gun are inherently coercive people. Is it possible for there to be a completely non-coercive encounter with the police?
  • If Drayton had been seized then it would call into question if he could give consent. Since a seizure requires reasonable suspicion (See Terry v. Ohio (392 U.S. 1 (1968))).
    • A seizure doesn’t always mean that there can’t be a consent search, but if the seizure was improper then all evidence stemming from the seizure is inadmissible.
  • Compare this case to Brendlin v. California (551 U.S. ___ (2007)), which had similar facts, but Brendlin was in a passenger car, not a bus. In that case, the court found that since it can be assumed that all passengers are involved in the same enterprise with the driver, when the driver is seized, all passengers are considered seized.