Car searches revisted by Supreme Court...what does this mean?


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Mr.V.
June 18, 2007, 11:31 PM
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/19/washington/19scotus.html?ei=5088&en=819abe7107770c1d&ex=1339905600&adxnnl=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1182219011-0bI7hg3NgRkgZB9ZUQaMQQ
June 19, 2007
Passengers Granted Same Right as Drivers
By LINDA GREENHOUSE
WASHINGTON, June 18 — The Supreme Court on Monday extended to automobile passengers the same right that drivers have: the right to challenge the validity of a decision by the police to stop the car.

The unanimous ruling was based on the justices’ “intuitive conclusion,” in the words of the opinion’s author, Justice David H. Souter, that passengers in a car stopped by the police do not feel free to get out and walk away.

Consequently, Justice Souter said, a police stop results in a “seizure” of the passengers no less than of the driver. It is a basic principle of constitutional law that only a person who has been “seized” through official action can challenge that action as a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure.

The court’s decision reopened the appeal of a California man, Bruce E. Brendlin, who was a passenger in a car that the police stopped, ostensibly to check whether the registration had expired. The state later conceded that the stop was invalid because the police officers knew, from an encounter earlier that day, that the registration was in order.

Upon stopping the car, one of the officers recognized Mr. Brendlin as a parole violator and arrested him. A search revealed methamphetamine supplies. Mr. Brendlin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison, but argued on appeal that the evidence should be suppressed as the result of the unlawful stop.

The California Supreme Court, overturning a lower state court that had ruled in his favor, held that Mr. Brendlin was not entitled to seek suppression. The state court said that he was not the target of the stop and that until the officer recognized and arrested him, he had not been “seized.”

The California Supreme Court’s analysis was an anomaly, as Justice Souter noted in his opinion; every federal appeals court to address the issue, as well as 47 state courts, had concluded that the police “seize” all the occupants of a car when they stop it.

While the decision, Brendlin v. California, No. 06-8120, therefore did not change the law in most jurisdictions, it did demonstrate an atypical moment of unanimity for the court in a case concerning the rights of criminal defendants.

Nearly half the decisions so far this term in cases concerning criminal procedure or habeas corpus, 9 out of 20 decisions, have been by 5-to-4 votes. In another six, the court voted 9 to 0, although the justices were not necessarily unanimous in their reasoning.

The court’s polarization is revealed by individual voting patterns. In the 14 cases with divided votes, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. voted 12 times for the prosecution side. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. voted for that side in 13 of the 14 divided cases. On the other side of the court, Justice John Paul Stevens, arguably the most liberal justice, voted for the defendant in 11 of the 14 divided cases.

The outcome of the latest case was foreshadowed during the argument in April, when one justice after another appeared to share the view that being stopped by the police was not a benign or casual experience for anyone in the car, whether driver or passenger. “The heart rate went up, the blood pressure went up,” Justice Souter, a former New Hampshire attorney general, mused aloud.

In the opinion, he wrote: “A traffic stop necessarily curtails the travel a passenger has chosen just as much as it halts the driver.” He added, “No passenger would feel free to leave.”

Martin S. Pinales, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, called the decision “a victory for common sense.”

The decision may not, however, be of much help to many passengers, whose success in suppressing incriminating evidence will depend on demonstrating that the stop was improper. But the court has given the police great leeway in stopping cars, ruling for example that a stop is valid as long as there is some objective reason for it, such as a broken tail light, regardless of whether the officer might have had an invalid motive, such as racial profiling.

It is not clear whether, as a parole violator, Mr. Brendlin will succeed in his effort to suppress the evidence. The justices left that question to the California courts.

Looking beyond this case, Justice Souter said that the inability of passengers to challenge arbitrary traffic stops gave the police “a powerful incentive” to run “roving patrols.”

In other action on Monday, the court turned down an appeal filed by six prisoners on Alabama’s death row who challenged the state’s refusal to provide lawyers for inmates who have been sentenced to death for a second round of appeals, known as state post-conviction review. Alabama, which has the country’s fastest-growing death row, is the only state that does not provide counsel at this stage, a state-court version of federal habeas corpus at which a convicted defendant can challenge the constitutionality of a trial or sentence.

The inmates lost their case in the federal appeals court in Atlanta. Their Supreme Court appeal, Barbour v. Allen, No. 06-10605, was supported by a brief filed by former justices of the Alabama Supreme Court and former presidents of the state bar association. The brief said Alabama’s refusal to provide lawyers had put the state’s legal system “in a state of crisis” and made Supreme Court review “imperative.”

So my big question is...if you do get stopped for something like a broken tail-light or the driver is in violation of registration, does this still mean you are okay to be searched as a passenger?

These sentences were a bit confusing...The decision may not, however, be of much help to many passengers, whose success in suppressing incriminating evidence will depend on demonstrating that the stop was improper. But the court has given the police great leeway in stopping cars, ruling for example that a stop is valid as long as there is some objective reason for it, such as a broken tail light, regardless of whether the officer might have had an invalid motive, such as racial profiling
Does that mean, "you've got a broken tail-light, so I can search you for methamphetamines?"
I'm curious as to what is allowed at a stop especially given this new decision by the Supreme Court...

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Outlaws
June 18, 2007, 11:40 PM
So my big question is...if you do get stopped for something like a broken tail-light or the driver is in violation of registration, does this still mean you are okay to be searched as a passenger?

A broken taillight gives the officer authority to ask everyone out of the vehicle, and even pat you down to make sure you have no weapons. But to search the vehicle or your personal belongings (backpacks, etc) is not included in that without reasonable cause, driver or passenger. You can say no, then listen to him get mad and threaten you, but you can still say no. Remember, a lot of this is being captured on his cruisers video camera.

Johannes_Paulsen
June 18, 2007, 11:41 PM
It means that if you are a passenger of a car that is pulled over for probable cause, and you are searched (and later tried for some offense resulting from that search,) you have the right to challenge the fruits of that search in court. The California Sup. Ct. held that you could not do this, under the rather absurd theory that when the car was stopped, although the driver of the car was "seized", you as a passenger were free to walk away.

Jeff White
June 19, 2007, 05:41 AM
Outlaws said;
A broken taillight gives the officer authority to ask everyone out of the vehicle, and even pat you down to make sure you have no weapons.

Not quite. For a Terry frisk the officer must be able to articulate a belief that criminal activity is going on and that there is a reason to pat the occupants down for weapons. A broken taillight isn't a very reliable indicator that the occupants of the vehicle are involved in criminal activity. There usually has to be something more.

In November of 2003 the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that an officer must be able to articulate a belief that the passengers in an automobile are involved in criminal activity before they can require them to present ID and run them through LEADS and NCIC.

Jeff

209
June 19, 2007, 07:35 AM
I haven't had too many folks bail out of cars I've stopped. I work in a quiet area.

The times I can remember- the end results netted:

Drugs;
Drugs;
Outstanding Warrant;
Drugs and a gun:
Drugs and an outstanding warrant;
Drugs, warrant and illegal weapon;

and a few more drugs.

Kind of a common thread runs through the whole "bailing out" action. I don't think I ever had anyone bail that wasn't what was labeled "Ridin' Dirty" by the rap song recently released by Chamillionaire.

Kentak
June 19, 2007, 08:53 AM
http://images.cafepress.com/product/37053303_240x240_Front_Color-BabyBlueWhite.jpg

Jeff White
June 19, 2007, 02:41 PM
http://patc.com/weeklyarticles/brendlinVcalifornia.shtml
U.S. Supreme Court Decides Passenger Privacy Case:
A Loss for the Prosecution but a Law Enforcement Victory
By Jack Ryan

The United States Supreme Court decided another case impacting law enforcement operations on June 18th. i The case concerns whether a passenger in a vehicle which has been unlawfully stopped can challenge the basis of the stop when evidence is discovered relative to the passenger. In other words, does the passenger have an expectation in a vehicle they have been riding in, such that they can challenge the stop?

Bruce Brendlin was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Karen Simeroth when the vehicle was stopped at 1:40 in the morning on November 27, 2001. Deputy Brokenbrough had observed Simeroth’s 1993 Buick with expired tags. Prior to the stop he had run the vehicle registration and determined that an application for registration was in progress and the vehicle has a temporary tag indicating that the temporary registration expired at the end of November. Notwithstanding all indications that this vehicle was registered, Deputy Brokenbrough decided to stop the vehicle because he could not determine if the temporary tag matched the vehicle. It was subsequently determined that this stop was bad due to the evidence that the vehicle did, in fact, meet the registration requirements.

Upon stopping and approaching the vehicle, Deputy Brokenbrough observed a passenger that he knew to be one of the Brendlin brothers. He was also aware that one of the Brendlins, either Scott or Bruce, had skipped out on his parole. The officer asked Brendlin his name, at which time the subject lied and stated his name was Bruce Brown. While at the vehicle, Deputy Brokenbrough observed receptacles in the vehicle that contained substances used for the manufacture of methamphetamine. Brokenbrough returned to his police vehicle and verified that Bruce Brendlin was a parole violator and had a no-bail warrant. At one point, while waiting, Brendlin opened the door of the Buick but then closed it again. Brokenbrough then called for back-up and took Brendlin out at gunpoint, arresting him for the parole violation warrant.

Upon a search incident to arrest the officer found the cap from a syringe in Brendlin’s pocket, two syringes in the car, marijuana and methamphetamine on Simeroth. Materials used for the manufacture of methamphetamine were found in the backseat. When the trial court refused to suppress the evidence as to Brendlin, he pled guilty to methamphetamine manufacturing charges. His argument for suppression had been that the stop of the vehicle was illegal, therefore he was unlawfully seized and the evidence found as a result of the bad stop and seizure was the fruit of the poisonous tree. The trial court, in refusing to suppress the evidence found that Brendlin, as a passenger, had been free to leave at any point during the stop and this had not been seized until after the officer recognized him as a parole violator and placed him under arrest. The Court of Appeal for California reversed the trial court and concluded that the evidence should have been suppressed. This led to an appeal in the California Supreme Court, which sided with the trial court and held that the evidence was good. Brendlin is now appealing that decision to the United States Supreme Court.

In analyzing this case, the United States Supreme Court rejected the opinion of the California Supreme Court with respect to a passenger’s seizure. The Court focused on when a seizure occurs. In doing so the court noted that a physical seizure occurs when there is a stopping of movement by a means intentionally applied while a show of authority seizure occurs when law enforcement shows authority and the subject of the seizure complies with that show of authority. The California court had concluded that although the officer in this case had showed authority in stopping the vehicle, Brendlin, as the passenger had not had an opportunity to comply since the show of authority had been directed at the driver and not at him and thus he had not been seized.

The Supreme Court reiterated that an analysis of a seizure includes whether the actions or conduct of law enforcement would lead the reasonable innocent person to believe that they were free to leave. The Court concluded that a reasonable person who was a passenger in a car that was stopped by police would not believe that they were free to leave and would believe that they must stay put. The Court cited to their previous decisions giving officers some authority over passengers to provide support for the fact that passengers are not free during a traffic stop. ii

The Court asserted: “It is also reasonable for passengers to expect that a police officer at the scene of a crime, arrest, or investigation will not let people move around in ways that could jeopardize his safety. In Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997), we held that during a lawful traffic stop an officer may order a passenger out of the car as a precautionary measure, without reasonable suspicion that the passenger poses a safety risk. Id., at 414-415; cf. Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977) (per curiam) (driver may be ordered out of the car as a matter of course). In fashioning this rule, we invoked our earlier statement that "'[t]he risk of harm to both the police and the occupants is minimized if the officers routinely exercise unquestioned command of the situation.'" Wilson, supra, at 414 (quoting Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692, 702-703 (1981)). What we have said in these opinions probably reflects a societal expectation of "'unquestioned [police] command'" at odds with any notion that a passenger would feel free to leave, or to terminate the personal encounter any other way, without advance permission.”

The Court concluded that the passengers in a vehicle are seized during a traffic stop and therefore can challenge the validity of the stop. Thus, Brendlin could challenge the validity of the stop which occurred here and seek the suppression of the evidence which was found. The Court then remanded the case back to the California courts to determine whether the evidence should be suppressed or allowed in on some other basis.

At first glance this may appear to be a bad case for law enforcement; however, it is actually a good case for law enforcement. If the California prosecution had prevailed in this case, law enforcement would have had no authority over passengers during lawful car stops. Such a rule would have placed law enforcement at a significant disadvantage in officer safety. Instead, the United States Supreme Court decided in favor of a defendant’s right to challenge a seizure in a minor drug case, and in doing so, upheld the authority of law enforcement over passengers in all traffic stops.

CITATIONS:

i Brendlin v. California, 2007 U.S. LEXIS 7897 (June 18, 2007).
ii See, Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 407 (1997) (allowing officers to order passengers from any lawfully stopped vehicle during a traffic stop for officer safety).

Sage of Seattle
June 19, 2007, 02:59 PM
If the California prosecution had prevailed in this case, law enforcement would have had no authority over passengers during lawful car stops. Such a rule would have placed law enforcement at a significant disadvantage in officer safety. Instead, the United States Supreme Court decided in favor of a defendant’s right to challenge a seizure in a minor drug case, and in doing so, upheld the authority of law enforcement over passengers in all traffic stops.

Can someone explain this last part to me, because it seems like quite a leap from what I understood the case to be and these conclusions.

And here's a hypothetical for any police officer out there in THRland: if you pull over my friend who's driving his car and I decide to get out and start walking, what would you do? I would imagine that you'd have to have some sort of articulable reason to detain me, yes? I'm not talking about a rapid bailout.... just when my friend stops the car, I'd open the door and start walking away. I would think that I could have done this before based on 4th amendment rules of me being seized -- now, according to the article that Jeff just posted, I'd be seized and subjected to search merely because I was in the same vehicle as a person who was pulled over for a traffic violation (alleged).

Could someone clarify for me?

waterhouse
June 19, 2007, 04:50 PM
Sage, reasonable suspicion isn't a very high burden.

Based on the officer's training and experience, a passenger getting out of a car at a traffic stop and walking away would probably constitute RS. There might be more to it than that . . .

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