What rights do you have as a passenger in a vehicle after a traffic stop? Can the police search you, order you to provide identification, or pat you down for weapons?Posted on: September 6, 2007 at 9:52 p.m.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Brendlin v. California (2007) 127 S.Ct. 2400 addressed many legal issues related to what constitutional rights passengers have after a traffic stop.
Assume that the police stop a car for an alleged traffic violation. Obviously, the driver is detained. But what about the passengers? Although it might seem obvious and a simple matter of common sense, a split developed on whether passengers in stopped cars were in fact detained. This is important because if the passengers were not detained, those passengers could not challenge the legality of the traffic stop. So even if the traffic stop turned out to be unlawful, and any evidence related to the driver had to be suppressed, the passengers were fair game and would lose their motions to suppress.
1. Passengers do have a Reasonable Privacy Expectation and have Standing to Challege Unlawful Police Intrusions after a Traffic Stop
Remarkably, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Brendlin and has now issued its opinion, unanimously reversing the California Supreme Court. The holding of the court is that passengers in stopped cars are detained, thereby permitting those passengers the right to challenge the legality of the stop of the car: When a police officer makes a traffic stop, the driver of the car is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The question in this case is whether the same is true of a passenger. We hold that a passenger is seized as well and so may challenge the constitutionality of the stop. (Brendlin v. California (2007) 127 S.Ct. 2400, 2403.)
The test of whether someone is detained comes from two cases. In United States v. Mendenhall (1980) 446 U.S. 544, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497, the court held that a person is seized if a reasonable person would believe that he or she is not free to leave. This test does not cover all situations, so the court adopted a gloss on this test, in United States v. Drayton (2002) 536 U.S. 194, 202, 122 S.Ct. 2105, 153 L.Ed.2d 242, saying that a person is detained where that person would not feel free to decline the officer
Tagged as: federal law and defense, probation and sentencing laws
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