Totality of the circumstances
In the law, the totality of the circumstances test refers to a method of analysis where decisions are based on all available information rather than bright-line rules. Under the totality of the circumstances test, courts focus "on all the circumstances of a particular case, rather than any one factor". In the United States, totality tests are used as a method of analysis in several different areas of the law. For example, in United States criminal law, a determination about reasonable suspicion or probable cause is based on a consideration of the totality of the circumstances.
Cathy E. Moore described the totality of the circumstances test as a "balancing approach" rather than a strict application of "analytical and evidentiary rules", and Michael Coenen wrote that a totality of the circumstances test is the "antithesis" of an "inflexible checklist". Likewise, Kit Kinports has described the totality of the circumstances test as an analytical framework where decision makers are not bound by "rigid" rules, but instead are free to consider a range of evidence when making decisions. John Barker Waite also contrasted the totality of the circumstances test against rigid rules; he wrote that a judge's determination about a defendant's guilt will always be based on their reactions "to the totality of the circumstances", and the basis for such determinations cannot be "reduced to rule".
As early as 1937, the Supreme Court of the United States held that a totality test should be used to determine whether an individual qualifies as a "farmer" under United States bankruptcy law. In its 1983 decision in Illinois v. Gates, the Supreme Court held that the totality of the circumstances test should be used to assess whether an anonymous tip is sufficient to provide probable cause. Writing for a majority of the Court, Justice William Rehnquist explained that a totality test was superior to a bright line rule because magistrates would not be "restricted in their authority to make probable cause determinations". In its 2013 ruling in Florida v. Harris, the Supreme Court affirmed that "lower court judges must reject rigid rules, bright-line tests, and mechanistic inquiries in favor of a more flexible, all-things-considered approach." However, some scholars have suggested that the Supreme Court's recent rulings in Florida v. Harris and Prado Navarette v. California represent a departure from the Court's prior totality test jurisprudence by introducing "drug-dog and drunk-driving exceptions to the totality-of-the-circumstances approach."
- Kit Kinports, Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion: Totality Tests or Rigid Rules? 163 U. Pa. L. Rev. 75, 75 (2014) (describing the totality of the circumstances test as a rejection of "rigid" rules).
- Black's Law Dictionary, Totality of circumstances test (Accessed March 2, 2016).
- Compare Timothy N. Trop, The Evolution of the Totality of the Circumstances Test for Willful Infringement, 27 IDEA 241, 250 (1987) (discussing the use of totality tests to determine whether a patent was willfully infringed upon) with David Allen Peterson, Criminal Procedure: Totality of the Circumstances Test for Determining Probable Cause Applied to Informer's Tips, 23 Washburn L.J. 437, 451 (1984) (discussing the use of totality tests "for determining probable cause based upon an informer's tip").
- Kit Kinports, Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion: Totality Tests or Rigid Rules? 163 U. Pa. L. Rev. 75, 75 (2014) (citing Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983)) ("Since its decision more than thirty years ago in Illinois v. Gates, the Supreme Court has emphasized that the Fourth Amendment’s suspicion requirements — the probable cause required to arrest and search, the reasonable suspicion needed to stop and frisk — are totality-of-the-circumstances tests.").
- Cathy E. Moore, Fourth Amendment — Totality of the Circumstances Approach to Probable Cause Based on Informant's Tips, 74 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1249, 1255 (1983).
- Michael Coenen, Rules Against Rulification, 124 Yale L.J. 644, 647 (2014) (internal quotations omitted).
- Kit Kinports, Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion: Totality Tests or Rigid Rules? 163 U. Pa. L. Rev. 75, 75 (2014).
- John Barker Waite, Law of Arrest , 24 Tex. L. Rev. 279, 306 (1945–1946) ("What constitutes reasonable ground for a peace officer, or a private person, to believe that a felony has been committed by the arrestee has never been reduced to rule, and could not be. Whether such a belief is or is not reasonable depends upon the reaction of the particular judge who makes the decision to the totality of the circumstances.").
- First Nat. Bank & Trust Co. of Bridgeport, Conn. v. Beach, 301 U.S. 435, 439 (1937) ("In every case the totality of the facts is to be considered and appraised.").
- Cathy E. Moore, Fourth Amendment — Totality of the Circumstances Approach to Probable Cause Based on Informant's Tips, 74 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1249, 1249 (1983).
- Gates, 462 U.S. at 420.
- Michael Coenen, Rules Against Rulification, 124 Yale L.J. 644, 647 (2014) (internal quotations omitted) (citing Florida v. Harris, 133 S. Ct. 1050, 1055–56 (2013)).
- Kit Kinports, Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion: Totality Tests or Rigid Rules? 163 U. Pa. L. Rev. 75, 86–87 (2014) ("Florida v. Harris has the practical effect of adopting the sweeping rule that a positive alert by a certified or recently trained drug dog gives rise to probable cause. Navarette v. California essentially articulated a rigid test that reasonable suspicion of driving under the influence arises whenever an anonymous informant reports having observed even one instance of certain reckless driving behaviors."); see also Christopher D. Sommers, Presumed Drunk Until Proven Sober: The Dangers and Implications of Anonymous Tips Following Navarette v. California, 60 S.D. L. Rev. 327, 352 (2015) (discussing departure from earlier precedent); George M. Dery III & Kevin Meehan, The Devil Is in the Details: The Supreme Court Erodes the Fourth Amendment in Applying Reasonable Suspicion in Navarette v. California, 21 Wash. & Lee J. Civil Rts. & Soc. Just. 275, 277 (2015) (discussing "dilution" of the reasonable suspicion standard).