Schneckloth v. Bustamonte Case Brief

Facts of the case

A police officer stopped a car that had a burned out license plate light and headlight. There were six men in the car, including Robert Clyde Bustamonte. Only one passenger had a drivers license, and he claimed that his brother owned the car. The officer asked this man if he could search the car. The man said, “Sure, go ahead.” Inside the car, the officer found stolen checks. Those checks were admitted into evidence at Bustamonte’s trial for possessing checks with the intent to defraud. A jury convicted Bustamonte, and the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District affirmed. The court reasoned that consent to search the car was given voluntarily, so evidence obtained during the search was admissible. The California Supreme Court denied review. Bustamonte filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which the district court denied. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that consent is not voluntary unless it is proven that the person who consented to the search knew he had the right to refuse consent.

Why is the case important?

Police stopped a vehicle containing the respondent, Robert Bustamonte (the “respondent”), and they asked to search the vehicle. Another passenger in the car gave permission, and the search produced stolen checks that were entered into evidence against the Respondent.


The issue is whether the respondent voluntarily consented to the search of the vehicle.


The consent to a vehicle search did not violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (“Constitution”). The test to determine if a subject has voluntarily consented is to review the totality of the circumstances. If the subject knows he or she has a right to refuse, it is a factor to be considered, but that fact is not the sole consideration.


The Court disagreed that proof of knowledge of the right to refuse consent was a necessary prerequisite to demonstrating voluntaryconsent. Rather, the Court held that individual consent could only be ascertained by analyzing all of the circumstances. The traditional definition of voluntariness, which the Court adhered to, did not require proof of knowledge of a right to refuse as the sine qua non of an effective consent to a search.

  • Advocates: Robert R. Granucci for petitioner Stuart P. Tobisman for the respondent, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court
  • Petitioner: Merle R. Schneckloth
  • Respondent: Robert Clyde Bustamonte
  • DECIDED BY:Burger Court
  • Location: Location of car search
Citation: 412 US 218 (1973)
Argued: Oct 10, 1972
Decided: May 29, 1973
Granted: Feb 28, 1972
Schneckloth v. Bustamonte Case Brief