United States v. Drayton Case Brief

Why is the case important?

A police search of bus passengers revealed drugs in the defendant’s bags and on his person.

Facts of the case

Christopher Drayton and Clifton Brown were traveling on a Greyhound bus. In Tallahassee, Florida, police officers boarded the bus as part of a routine interdiction effort. One of the officers worked his way from back to front, speaking with individual passengers as he went. The officer did not inform the passengers of their right to refuse to cooperate. As the officer approached Drayton and Brown, he identified himself, declared that the police were looking for drugs and weapons, and asked if the two had any bags. Subsequently, the officer asked Brown whether he minded if he checked his person. Brown agreed and a pat-down revealed hard objects similar to drug packages in both thigh areas. When Drayton agreed, a pat-down revealed similar objects. Both were arrested. A further search revealed that Drayton and Brown had taped cocaine to their legs. Charged with federal drug crimes, Drayton and Brown moved to suppress the cocaine on the ground that their consent to the pat-down searches was invalid. In denying the motions, the District Court determined that the police conduct was not coercive and Drayton and Brown’s consent to the search was voluntary. In reversing, the Court of Appeals noted that bus passengers do not feel free to disregard officers’ requests to search absent some positive indication that consent may be refused.

Question

Whether officers must advise bus passengers during these encounters of their right not to cooperate.

Answer

No. Under precedent, Florida v. Bostick, if a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter, then he or she has not been seized. A determination of when this is true necessitates a consideration of all the circumstances surrounding the encounter. The Supreme Court then held the erred Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals when adopting the approach that the officer MUST warn the passengers that they may refuse to cooperate in an interdiction search. In the present matter, there was no application of force, no intimidating movement, no overwhelming show of force, no brandishing of weapons, no blocking of exits, no threat, no command, not even an authoritative tone of voice. The officer’s badge is not intimidating on its face, as officers wear uniforms, as well as side-arms. The officer at the front of the bus did nothing to intimidate passengers. The fact only a few passengers have refused to cooperate does not suggest that a reasonable person would not
feel free to terminate the bus encounter.
Drayton argued that after Brown had been taken into custody no reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter with the officers. The court held that the arrest of one person does not mean that everyone around him has been seized by police,, and that if anything, Brown’s arrest should have put Drayton on notice of the consequences of continuing the encounter by answering the officers’ questions.

Conclusion

The United States Supreme Court held that the police did not seize the defendants when they boarded the bus and began questioning passengers. According to the Court, the officers gave the passengers no reason to believe that they were required to answer questions. The officers did not brandish weapons or make any intimidating movements, they left the aisle free so that passengers could exit, and spoke to them one by one in a polite, quiet voice. The Court opined that nothing the officer said would have suggested to a reasonable person that he was barred from leaving or terminating the encounter. The Court ruled that the questioning took place on a bus did not on its own transform it into an illegal seizure. The fact that the officers were not in uniform or visibly armed had little weight. The Court noted that the officer asked the defendants first if they objected to a search. Even after arresting one defendant, the officer addressed the second defendant politely and gave no indication that he was required to answer questions or consent to a search. Although the officer did not inform the defendants of their right to refuse the search, he did request permission to search. The Court concluded that the totality of the circumstances indicated that the consent was voluntary.

  • Case Brief: 2002
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Drayton
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 536 US 194 (2002)
Argued: Apr 16, 2002
Decided: Jun 17, 2002