As part of a drug interdiction effort, police officers routinely boarded passenger buses at scheduled stops and asked travelers for permission to search their luggage. Two officers boarded the bus that the defendant was riding. Without articulable suspicion, the officers questioned the defendant and asked for his consent to search his luggage for drugs. They advised the defendant of his right to refuse and he granted his consent. The officers found cocaine and arrested the defendant.
Whether the encounter constituted a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment?
No. A person is “seized” when freedom of movement is restricted by government action.
In some circumstances, the proper test in deciding whether a person has been seized is not whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave, but whether, a reasonable passenger would feel free to terminate the encounter. Random bus searches pursuant to a passenger’s consent are not per se unconstitutional. The cramped confines of a bus is just one factor to be considered in evaluating whether that encounter constitutes a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.
Even when officers have no basis for suspecting a particular individual of criminal activity, they may generally ask questions of that individual, ask to examine his identification, and request to search his luggage. It is important that they do not convey the impression that compliance with their requests is mandatory.
In this case, the fact that the defendant did not feel free to leave the bus does not mean that he was seized. His movements were confined in a sense, but this was the natural result of his decision to ride the bus. The officers did not point weapons at the defendant or threaten him or otherwise imply that compliance with their request was mandatory. Further, the officers specifically advised him that he could refuse consent. Therefore, the action by the police on the bus did not constitute a Fourth Amendment seizure.
501 U.S. 429, 111 S. Ct. 2382 (1991)