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Impact of a Verbal Warning on Police Consent Search Practices

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 32 Issue: 1 Dated: January/February 2004 Pages: 85-87
Illya Lichtenberg
Date Published
January 2004
3 pages
This article discusses the impact of requiring a verbal warning prior to a police request for consent to search a suspect’s automobile.
The fears of the Schneckloth Court (Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 1973) were examined where the majority posited that requiring a verbal warning would deter the police from using consent searches as an investigative tool. Until the Supreme Court of Ohio issued its controversial decision in State v. Robinette (1995), few opportunities existed to test the hypothesized effect of a verbal warning on police consent search practices. The Robinette decision required similar warnings to Miranda, but it was applied to the waiver of fourth amendment rights rather than fifth amendment rights. The Robinette decision required that the police inform motorists that they are free to leave before engaging in a consensual interrogation or requesting consent to search. More than 1 year after the Robinette decision, the United States Supreme Court overruled the decision on Federal grounds and remanded the case to the Ohio courts. The short-lived warning provided an opportunity to examine the impact of the verbal warning to police consent search practices. The data used were collected from consent search forms on file with the Ohio Highway Patrol (OHP). The research question asked whether the mandatory use of the verbal warning caused a significant reduction in the rate at which the OHP made requests for consent to search automobiles. The entire set of 1995 through the first quarter of 1997 was examined. The results showed that significant changes were not observed in the OHP’s consent search practices after the Robinette warning. Although minor changes were observed, the changes were in the opposite direction than predicted and were not substantial. The frequency in which the OHP sought consent and the mandatory use of the warning had no relation. The warning did not alter police practices at all and if it did, consent searches were increased. 7 references