The Florida Court

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees protection against unlawful or unreasonable searches and seizures. (US Constitution, 4th Amendment) In a typical case the police are required to have reasonable grounds to suspect that the target of the search and seizure is involved in criminal conduct in order to avoid suppression of the evidence obtained by such a search and seizure. (Schmalleger and Armstrong, 100) If no such suspicion exists the court then looks to see if the target of the search and seizure gave his or her consent free of force.

This was the central issue in the case of Florida v Bostick. (Florida v Bostick, 501 US 429 [1991]) On the facts of the Bostick case, two Broward County, Florida police officers boarded a bus as part of a narcotics’ crackdown policy. The officers were in uniform, wore badges and one carried a weapon in zipper pouch. The bus was in transit from Miami to Atlanta and the bus was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the relevant time.

After looking around at the passengers, the officers honed in on Bostick and requested his bus ticket and identification. After inspecting Bostick’s ticket and identification the police returned the items to Bostick and explained their narcotics mission and asked to search Bostick’s bags. The police also advised Bostick that he was at liberty to refuse consent. The latter consented and in the course of the search the police found a quantity of cocaine, an unlawful narcotic. (Florida v Bostick, 501 US 429 [1991])

At his trial at first issue, Bostick sought to have the cocaine suppressed on the basis that the search and seizure had been executed contrary to the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. His primary argument rested on the submission that the seizure had been unreasonable since he had been on a public bus and did not feel free to refuse consent since he was not free to leave. He argued that his freedom to leave had been constrained by the fact that the bus was scheduled to depart.

(Florida v Bostick, 501 US 429 [1991]) The trial judge denied the defendant’s application and allowed the cocaine into evidence with the result that Bostick entered a conditional guilty plea pending an appeal with respect to his motion to suppress. (Florida v Bostick, 501 US 429 [1991]) The Florida Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s denial to suppress and the Florida Supreme Court reversed the Florida Court of Appeals affirmation. (Florida v Bostick, 501 US 429 [1991])

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