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Supreme Court Overturns Ohio Traffic Stop Decision

Monday, 18 November 1996

, , The Supreme Court ruled that police do not have to inform drivers during a routine traffic stop that they are legally free to go before asking for consent to search their vehicle. &nbps;The ruling overturns a 1995 Ohio Supreme Court decision mandating that police must first inform motorists that they are "legally free to go" before requesting the driver's permission to search their car for drugs or other contraband.

Writing the opinion for the court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that the court has "consistently eschewed bright-line rules" in Fourth Amendment analysis, and instead must examine the "totality of the circumstances" on a case by case basis. &nbps;"It would be unrealistic to require the police to always inform detainees that they are free to go before a police consent search may be deemed voluntary," Rehnquist concluded.

In deciding the case, the High Court rejected the argument that many individuals will assume that they are in a police officer's custody as long as the officer continues to interrogate them. &nbps;"While knowledge of the right to refuse consent is one factor to be taken into account, the government need not establish such knowledge as the sine qua non of an effective consent," Rehnquist opined.

The case is cited as Ohio v. Robinette, No. 95-891.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.