Three police officers boarded a bus as part of a routine drug and weapons interdiction effort. One officer knelt on the driver’s seat, facing the rear of the bus, while another officer stayed in the rear, facing forward. The third officer worked his way from back to front, speaking with individual passengers as he went. To avoid blocking the aisle, this officer stood next to or just behind each passenger with whom he spoke. He testified that passengers who declined to cooperate or who chose to exit the bus at any time would have been allowed to do so, that most people are willing to cooperate, and that passengers often leave the bus for a break while officers are on board. The officer approached the defendant and his traveling companion, who were seated together, and identified himself. Speaking just loud enough for them to hear, he declared that he was looking for drugs and weapons and asked if the defendants had any bags. Both of them pointed to a bag overhead. The officer asked if they minded if he checked it. The traveling companion agreed, but the search did not reveal anything. The officer then asked the companion whether he minded if the officer checked his person. The companion agreed and the officer felt hard objects similar to drug packages. The officer arrested the companion. The officer then asked the defendant, “Mind if I check you?” When the defendant agreed, a pat-down revealed objects similar to those found on the companion, and the officer arrested the defendant.
Whether the defendant and his traveling companion were coerced (by being seized) into giving consent to search their persons?
No. The officers did not seize the defendant nor does the Fourth Amendment require officers to advise bus passengers of their right to refuse cooperation.
The Court previously held in Florida v. Bostick that the Fourth Amendment allows officers to approach bus passengers at random to ask questions and request their consent to search. The limitation to this authority is that a reasonable person must feel free to decline the requests or otherwise terminate the encounter. Applying Bostick’s rationale to this case demonstrates that the officers did not seize the defendants. The officers gave the passengers no reason to believe that they were required to answer questions. They did not display weapons or make any intimidating movements, and they left the aisle free so that the defendants could exit. The communicating officer spoke to the defendants one by one and in a polite, quiet voice. The Court held that if this encounter occurred on a public street, no seizure would have occurred. The fact that an encounter takes place on a bus does not transform it into a seizure.
536 U.S. 194, 122 S. Ct. 2105 (2002)