Tuesday, June 19, 2007

SCOTUS holds that a passanger is siezed under the Fourth Amendment when the police stop the driver's automobile

In BRENDLIN v. CALIFORNIA, officers stopped a car to check its registration without reason to believe it was being operated unlawful. One of the cops recognized Brendlin as a parole violator. The cops arrested him, searched the car and the driver. The police found methamphetamine paraphernalia and charged Brendlin with possession and manufacture. Brendlin moved to suppress the evidence obtained in searching his person and the car, arguing that the officer slacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to make the traffics top, which was an unconstitutional seizure of his person. The State Supreme Court held that suppression was unwarranted because a passenger is not seized as a constitutional matter absent additional circumstances that would indicate to a reasonable person that he was the subject of the officer’s investigation or show of authority.

The United States Supreme Court reversed. According to the Court:

We resolve this question by asking whether a reasonable person in Brendlin’s position when the car stopped would have believed himself free to “terminate the encounter” between the police and himself. Bostick, supra,at 436. We think that in these circumstances any reasonable passenger would have understood the police officers to be exercising control to the point that no one in the car was free to depart without police permission.

Agreed. When the police stop a car, no one believes he is at liberty to simply exit the vehicle and walk away. SCOTUS got this one right.

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