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Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33 (1996)



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO No.95-891. Argued October 8, 1996-Decided November 18,1996

After an Ohio deputy sheriff stopped respondent Robinette for speeding, gave him a verbal warning, and returned his driver’s license, the deputy asked whether he was carrying illegal contraband, weapons, or drugs in his car. Robinette answered “no” and consented to a search of the car, which revealed a small amount of marijuana and a pill. He was arrested and later charged with knowing possession of a controlled substance when the pill turned out to be methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Following denial of his pretrial suppression motion, he was found guilty, but the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the search resulted from an unlawful detention. The State Supreme Court affirmed, establishing as a bright-line prerequisite for consensual interrogation under these circumstances the requirement that an officer clearly state when a citizen validly detained for a traffic offense is “legally free to go.”


1. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision. The contention that jurisdiction is lacking because the Ohio decision rested in part upon the State Constitution is rejected under Michigan v. Long, 463 U. S. 1032, 1040-1041. Although the opinion below mentions the Ohio Constitution in passing, it clearly relies on federal law, discussing and citing federal cases almost exclusively. It is not dispositive that those citations appear only in the opinion and not in the official syllabus. Under Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co., 433 U. S. 562, 566, it is permissible to turn to an Ohio opinion’s body when the syllabus speaks only in general terms of “the federal and Ohio Constitutions.” Nor is the Court’s jurisdiction defeated by the additional holding below that continuing detention of a person stopped for a traffic violation constitutes an illegal seizure when the officer’s motivation for continuing is not related to the purpose of the original, constitutional stop and there are no articulable facts giving rise to a suspicion of some separate illegal activity. Under Whren v. United States, 517 U. S. 806, 813, the officer’s subjective intentions do not make continued detention illegal, so long as the detention is justified by the circumstances viewed objectively. Pp. 36-39.

2. The Fourth Amendment does not require that a lawfully seized defendant be advised that he is “free to go” before his consent to search



will be recognized as voluntary. The Amendment’s touchstone is reasonableness, which is measured in objective terms by examining the totality of the circumstances. In applying this test, the Court has consistently eschewed bright-line rules, instead emphasizing the factspecific nature of the reasonableness inquiry. Indeed, in rejecting a per se rule very similar to one adopted below, this Court has held that the voluntariness of a consent to search is a question of fact to be determined from all the circumstances. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U. S. 218, 248-249. The Ohio Supreme Court erred in holding otherwise. It would be unrealistic to require the police to always inform detainees that they are free to go before a consent to search may be deemed voluntary. Cf. id., at 231. Pp. 39-40.

73 Ohio St. 3d 650, 653 N. E. 2d 695, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O’CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, THOMAS, and BREYER, JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 40. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 45.

Carley J. Ingram argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs was Mathias H. Heck, Jr.

Irving L. Gornstein argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. On the brief were Solicitor General Days, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, Paul A. Engelmayer, and Joseph C. Wyderko.

James D. Ruppert argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent. *

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Alabama et al. by Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General of Ohio, Jeffrey S. Sutton, State Solicitor, and Simon B. Karas, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Daniel E. Lungren of California, Gale A. Norton of Colorado, M. Jane Brady of Delaware, Robert Butterworth of Florida, Margery S. Bronster of Hawaii, Alan G. Lance of Idaho, Jim Ryan of Illinois, Carla J. Stovall of Kansas, A. B. Chandler III of Kentucky, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, Andrew Ketterer of Maine, J. Joseph Curran, Jr., of Maryland, Scott Harshbarger of Massachusetts, Frank J. Kelley of Michigan, Hubert H. Humphrey III of Minnesota, Mike Moore of Mississippi, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Frankie Sue Del Papa