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

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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."

Held: 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


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