Schneckloth v. Bustamonte

PETITIONER: Merle R. Schneckloth
RESPONDENT: Robert Clyde Bustamonte
LOCATION: Location of car search

DOCKET NO.: 71-732
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 412 US 218 (1973)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 1972
DECIDED: May 29, 1973
GRANTED: Feb 28, 1972

Robert R. Granucci - for petitioner
Stuart P. Tobisman - for the respondent, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court

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.


(1) Did the court of appeals err when it held that the search of the car was invalid because the state failed to show consent given with knowledge that it could be withheld?

(2) Should claims relating to search and seizure be available to a prisoner filing a writ of habeus corpus?

Media for Schneckloth v. Bustamonte

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1972 in Schneckloth v. Bustamonte

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in 71-732, Schneckloth against Bustamonte.

Mr. Granucci, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Robert R. Granucci:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case comes here on a writ of certiorari to review a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals from the Ninth Circuit, reversing an order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, denying Mr. Bustamonte’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

The questions presented are one, whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding invalid a search based upon a verbal expression of consent in an atmosphere free of coercion, on the sole ground that the State had failed to demonstrate that consent was given with knowledge that it could be withheld.

The second point is somewhat broader.

It is, whether questions relating to search and seizure should remain available to state prisoners seeking to set aside a final conviction on federal habeas corpus.

A jury found Robert Clyde Bustamonte guilty of possessing a completed check in violation --- completed check with intent to defraud.

At the trial three stolen and forged checks were admitted into evidence over defense objection.

The facts of the case are these.

On January 19, 1967, the Speedway Car Wash in Mountain View, California, a town about 30 miles south of San Francisco, was burglarized.

A number of blank checks and a check protector were taken.

Subsequently, these checks were completed by respondent Bustamonte, using the check protector and forging the Car Wash owner’s name.

Bustamonte, together with Joe Alcala and Joe Gonzales, then set out to cash the checks.

On the evening of January 30, the three proceeded to San Jose, to find persons who might be willing to use false identification to cash the checks and then sharing the proceeds.

They picked up three men, but their efforts to cash the checks were unsuccessful.

At About 2:45 --

Warren E. Burger:

Do you connect the picking up of the three men with the efforts to cash the checks?

Robert R. Granucci:

Yes, that was the --

Warren E. Burger:

Which was the purpose of their association for that moment?

Robert R. Granucci:


This evidence came out at the trial.

It appears in the opinion of the California Court of Appeals.

At 2:45, the following morning, as the six men were driving along the highway, a police officer on patrol noticed that their car had only one functioning headlight.

He made a U-turn to follow the car, and then saw that it had no rear license plate light either.

He then stopped the car.

Gonzales was driving and Alcala and Bustamonte were in the front seat.

Three other men were in the rear.

Gonzales had no driver’s license, nor any identification.

Neither did anybody else, except Mr. Alcala, who produced his driver’s license and stated that the car belonged to his brother.