Skip to main content

Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429 (1991)


As part of a drug interdiction effort, Broward County Sheriff’s Department officers routinely board buses at scheduled stops and ask passengers for permission to search their luggage. Two officers boarded respondent Bostick’s bus and, without articulable suspicion, questioned him and requested his consent to search his luggage for drugs, advising him of his right to refuse. He gave his permission, and the officers, after finding cocaine, arrested Bostick on drug trafficking charges. His motion to suppress the cocaine on the ground that it had been seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment was denied by the trial court. The Florida Court of Appeal affirmed, but certified a question to the State Supreme Court. That court, reasoning that a reasonable passenger would not have felt free to leave the bus to avoid questioning by the police, adopted a per se rule that the sheriff’s practice of “working the buses” is unconstitutional.


1. The Florida Supreme Court erred in adopting a per se rule that every encounter on a bus is a seizure. The appropriate test is whether, taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, a reasonable passenger would feel free to decline the officers’ requests or otherwise terminate the encounter. Pp.  501 U. S. 433-437.

(a) A consensual encounter does not trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny.  See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1,  392 U. S. 19, n. 16. Even when officers have no basis for suspecting a particular individual, they may generally ask the individual questions, Florida v. Rodriguez, 469 U. S. 1,  469 U. S. 5-6, ask to examine identification, INS v. Delgdo, 466 U. S. 210,  466 U. S. 216, and request consent to search luggage, Florida v. Royer, 460 U. S. 491, 460 U. S. 501, provided they do not convey a message that compliance with their requests is required. Thus, there is no doubt that, if this same encounter had taken place before Bostick boarded the bus or in the bus terminal, it would not be a seizure. Pp.  501 U. S. 434-435.

(b) That this encounter took place on a bus is but one relevant factor in determining whether or not it was of a coercive nature. The state court erred in focusing on the “free to leave” language of Michigan v. Chesternut,486 U. S. 567,  486 U. S. 573, rather than on the principle that those words were intended to capture. This inquiry is not an accurate measure of an encounter’s coercive effect when a person is seated on a bus about to depart, has no desire to leave, and would not feel free to leave 

Page 501 U. S. 430

even if there were no police present. The more appropriate inquiry is whether a reasonable passenger would feel free to decline the officers’ request or otherwise terminate the encounter. Thus, this case is analytically indistinguishable from INS v. Delgado, supra. There, no seizure occurred when INS agents visited factories at random, stationing some agents at exits while others questioned workers, because, even though workers were not free to leave without being questioned, the agents’ conduct gave them no reason to believe that they would be detained if they answered truthfully or refused to answer. Such a refusal, alone, does not furnish the minimal level of objective justification needed for detention or seizure.  Id. at  466 U. S. 216-217. Pp.  501 U. S. 435-437.

2. This case is remanded for the Florida courts to evaluate the seizure question under the correct legal standard. The trial court made no express findings of fact, and the State Supreme Court rested its decision on a single fact — that the encounter took place on a bus — rather than on the totality of the circumstances. Rejected, however, is Bostick’s argument that he must have been seized because no reasonable person would freely consent to a search of luggage containing drugs, since the “reasonable person” test presumes an innocent person. Pp.  501 U. S. 437-440.

554 So. 2d 1153 (Fla.1989), reversed and remanded.

O’CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p.  501 U. S. 440. 

Page 501 U. S. 431