Bumper v. North Carolina Case Brief

Why is the case important?

An individual was accused of rape and one piece of evidence used to accuse him was a .22-caliber rifle found in his grandmothers home.

Facts of the case

Wayne Darnell Bumper was investigated and eventually arrested on charges of rape and felonious assault. During the investigation, police officials searched the home of Mrs. Hattie Leath, Bumper’s grandmother, with whom he was living at the time. Leath consented to a search of her home, but only after the police officials informed her they had a warrant, which they did not actually have. The officers found a rifle that was later introduced into evidence at Bumper’s trial. The trial court allowed the rifle to be entered into evidence because it held that Leath had consented to the search. The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed.

Question

Whether a search can be justified as lawful on the basis of consent when that ‘consent’ has been given only after the official conducting the search has asserted that he possesses a warrant?

Answer

No, there can be no consent under such circumstances.
When a prosecutor seeks to rely upon consent to justify the lawfulness of a search, he has the burden of proving that the consent was, in fact, freely and voluntarily given. This burden cannot be discharged by showing no more than acquiescence to a claim of lawful authority. A search conducted in reliance upon a warrant cannot later be justified on the basis of consent if it turns out that the warrant was invalid. The result can be no different when it turns out that the State does not even attempt to rely upon the validity of the warrant, or fails to show that there was, in fact, any warrant at all.
When a law enforcement officer claims authority to search a home under a warrant, he announces in effect that the occupant has no right to resist the search. The situation is instinct with coercion – albeit colorably lawful coercion. Where there is coercion there cannot be consent.

Conclusion

The Court held that there was no consent when that consent was given only after the official conducting the search asserted that he possessed a warrant. The Court determined that such consent was not consent for purposes of authorizing a warrantless search. According to the Court, one who, upon the command of an officer authorized to enter and search and seize by search warrant, opens the door to the officer and acquiesces in obedience to such a request, no matter by what language used in such acquiescence, is but showing a regard for the supremacy of the law. The presentation of a search warrant to those in charge at the place to be searched, by one authorized to serve it, is tinged with coercion, and submission thereto cannot be considered an invitation that would waive the constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures, but rather is to be considered a submission to the law.

  • Case Brief: 1968
  • Petitioner: Wayne Darnell Bumper
  • Respondent: North Carolina
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 391 US 543 (1968)
Argued: Apr 24 – 25, 1968
Decided: Jun 3, 1968
Granted Jan 15, 1968