Is a Consent to Search Valid if Signed Under Duress or Under the Influence?
The answer is a matter of subjective determination for the court, based on all the facts and circumstances involved. A consent to search is valid unless it is procured by fraud, duress, fear, or intimidation, or where it is merely a submission to the supremacy of the law. To constitute a valid waiver of Fourth Amendment rights, a consent must be the intelligent relinquishment of a known right or privilege. The “totality of the circumstances” from which the voluntariness of a detainee’s consent is to be determined includes, but is not limited to, the following considerations: 1) age, 2) general intelligence and education, 3) whether the individual was
under the influence of drugs or alcohol, 4) whether he was informed of his Miranda
rights, and 5) whether he had experienced prior arrests and was thus aware of the
protections the legal system affords suspected criminals.
Additionally, the environment in which the alleged consent was secured is also
relevant. Others factors that may be considered include: 1) the length of time one was detained,
2) whether the police threatened, physically intimidated, or punished the suspect,
3) whether the police made promises or misrepresentations, 4) whether the suspect
was in custody or under arrest when the consent was given, 5) whether the consent
occurred in a public or a secluded place, 6) whether the suspect stood by silently
as the search occurred, and (7) whether the defendant's contemporaneous reaction to the search was consistent with consent. The factors should not be applied mechanically, and no single factor is dispositive or controlling.
Duress is defined as the constraint of another’s will so that he is forced to give consent when he is not in reality willing to do so. Duress must destroy the free will of a party and cause him to do an act or form a contract not of his own volition. The alleged coercive event must be of such severity, either threatened, impending, or actually afflicted, so as to overcome the mind and will of a person of ordinary firmness. Duress is viewed with a subjective test, looking at the individual characteristics of the person allegedly influenced, and duress does not occur if the person has a reasonable alternative to succumbing and fails to avail themselves of the alternative.
Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol may impair a person to such an extent that he is unable to understand the nature of his actions or the consequences of his acts, therefore lacking legal capacity to give informed consent or enter into contracts. The degree of impairment will be an evidentiary matter for the court to take under consideration, as determined by blood/urine/breathalyzer tests, field sobriety tests, or other observances of cpeech, conduct, appearances, etc..