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

2012-08-10 17:45:16

Robinette was stopped for speeding by an Ohio deputy sheriff on drug interdiction patrol. The deputy approached Robinette’s car, asked for and received his driver’s license, and returned to his cruiser and ran a records check that revealed no outstanding warrants. The deputy then returned to the Robinette’s car, ordered him out of the vehicle, told him he was going to let him go with a warning, and handed back Robinette’s license. The deputy then asked Robinette if Robinette would consent to a vehicle search. Robinette consented, drugs were found, and Robinette was arrested. At trial and on appeal, Robinette sought to have the drugs excluded as the product of an unlawful seizure, claiming his consent was obtained unlawfully. The Ohio Supreme Court concluded that the search of Robinette’s car violated the Fourth Amendment because his consent was invalid, as the deputy did not make it clear to Robinette that the lawful detention (the traffic stop) had ended and that Robinette was free to leave before the deputy sought consent to search the car.

The Supreme Court reversed the Ohio court, holding that the Fourth Amendment does not require a police officer to tell a motorist when a lawful detention has ended and a consensual encounter has begun. The Court has consistently maintained a distinction between Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to remain silent and have counsel (where police are required to inform suspects of their rights through the Miranda warnings) and Fourth Amendment rights (which the Court has consistently held impose on the police no affirmative duty to inform). Thus police officers need not inform a suspect he or she may refuse to consent to a search, or that a lawful detention such as a traffic stop or investigatory stop has ended. This decision has implications for civil liberties, as law enforcement agencies use drug interdiction patrols and pretext stops as means of searching for drugs. Police officers, under Whren v. United States (1996), are allowed to stop a vehicle for any reason so long as there exists a lawful basis for the stop. Under Robinette, law enforcement officers may take advantage of a lawful detention to attempt to turn it into a full-blown search, if consent is given, without first making it clear to the suspect that he or she is free to leave.


References and Further Reading

  • Hemmens, Craig, and Jeffrey R. Maahs, Reason to Believe: Ohio v. Robinette. Ohio Northern University Law Review 23 (1997): 2:309–46.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996)

See also Warrantless Searches