Search and Seizure: Supreme Court Rules Passengers Can Challenge Police Stops

In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court held Monday that passengers in a car stopped by police have the same right to challenge the constitutionality of that stop as the driver. The court held that when police stop a vehicle, the passengers are "seized" and have the right to challenge the legality of that seizure in court.

The ruling came in the case of California resident Bruce Edward Brendlin, who was arrested on parole violation and drug charges after the car in which he was riding was pulled over for what turned out to be bogus reasons by police. Once police had stopped the vehicle, they ordered Brendlin out of the car, searched him, the driver, and the vehicle, and found a syringe cap, a small amount of marijuana, and ingredients used to home cook methamphetamine.

While the driver of the vehicle did not challenge the constitutionality of the traffic stop, Brendlin did. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence against him, arguing that the traffic stop amounted to "an unlawful seizure of his person."

A California appeals court agreed, but the California Supreme Court overturned the appeals court decision. Instead, the California high court agreed with the state that even though police "had no adequate justification" to stop the vehicle in which Brendlin was riding, only the driver -- not any passengers -- had been "seized." Passengers in a vehicle stopped by police "would feel free to depart or otherwise to conduct his or her affairs as though the police were not present," the court reasoned.

But the US Supreme Court begged to differ. Any "reasonable passenger" would not feel free to simply leave the scene of a traffic stop, wrote Justice David Souter in the opinion in Brendlin v. California. "A traffic stop necessarily curtails the travel a passenger has chosen just as much as it halts the driver," Souder wrote. "Brendlin was seized from the moment [the driver's] car came to a halt on the side of the road, and it was error to deny his suppression motion on the ground that seizure occurred only at the formal arrest."

To find in favor of California's position that passengers are not "seized" during a traffic stop "would invite police officers to stop cars with passengers regardless of probable cause or reasonable suspicion of anything illegal," Souter wrote. "The fact that evidence uncovered as a result of an arbitrary traffic stop would still be admissible against any passengers would be a powerful incentive to run the kind of 'roving patrols' that would still violate the driver's Fourth Amendment right."

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Seized Passengers

Wow! I agree with David Souter about something...will wonders never cease? I think this is a key decision and a correct one. Now if only the Supreme Court would rule that the very act of drug testing is also an "illegal search and seizure."

About time

How about some one challenging the road side alcohol and drug check points where the police are being allowed to run 'roving patrols' that violate the driver's Fourth Amendment right?? I think it is long overdue!


Apparently you are a drunk if you are against roving patrols.

Long Overdue

How about some one challenging the road side alcohol and drug check points where the police are being allowed to run 'roving patrols' that violate the driver and passenger's Fourth Amendment right?? I think it is long overdue! The police are being effectively allowed to stop motorists without probably cause or reasonable suspicion, they get to search every vehicle that comes through the check points and are also allowed to detain and waste motorists valuable time without probably cause, outrageous and unconstitutional.

No search

they are not allowed to merely search every car just for fun. If you smell like a brewery, they may investigate. It may save a family's life, and if that means you might be inconvenienced for about 30 seconds while you tell the officer you've had nothing to drink prior to getting behind the wheel, then that's too god damn bad for you, dummy.

drug checkpoints

Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that drug checkpoints are illegal.


Civil Liberty

Do not attempt to physically resist an unlawful arrest, search or seizure.

Be courteous and provide your IDentification when asked.

U.S. Constitution:
right to remain silent, to consult with an attorney, and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Do not consent to any search of your person, your property, your residence or your vehicle.

“I refuse to waive rights and privileges afforded to me by the U.S Constitution:

• Fifth Amendment
The right to remain silent.

• Sixth Amendment
The right to an attorney of my choice.
I refuse to waive all privileges and rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona.

• Fourth Amendment
The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
I do not consent to any search or seizure of myself, of my house or of any property in my possession.

Any statement I make, or alleged consent is hereby made under protest to provide you with information.”

Again, Be courteous and provide your IDentification when asked.

Insulting comments and character assessments - Police

I've been waiting to retrieve someone from San Joaquin County Jail - California. This person was a passenger in a car, stopped for having defective tail lights that were not defective. The driver called my home on her cell phone. In route to the location, my passenger received another call from the driver of the unlawfully stopped vehicle. She stated that the police were going to impound her vehicle because she was driving on a suspended license - unbeknownst to her. She gave the phone to one of the two officers at the location. It was approximately 1:45 in the morning and I was mainly focused on driving. However I did ask a couple of questions: 1) Was it required or mandated by law that her vehicle be impounded?; 2) Why was the passenger ordered to surrender his driver's license? In fact, the passenger was approached before the driver. He had a warrant for his arrest for failure to continue payments on a traffic ticket (lost job and out of county jurisdiction). That ticket in arrears was a fix it ticket on a vehicle not owned by the passenger... ! Still the passenger was placed under arrest, booked and the said case against him is to be transferred to his county of residence (best done from the start). After being told he'd be held for 2 hours, he now sits in jail because the jail is waiting for his fingerprints to come back. It was suggested to me that I get a cup of coffee from one of several nearby locations - I don't do coffee and I live in the area.

When I arrived at the location, it was clear that one of the officers had a problem with me. I remained calm, not afraid.. calm. I was polite while he was not. I have every reason to believe that I alone could've beaten the hell out of the two officers, yet I remained calm and well mannered (not submissive). I knew at that point however, that I would go to police headquarters and speak with a watch commander or someone in charge. I did not wish to file a formal complaint at that time. Whereas the watch commander seemed to understand what had happened and agreed that such behaviour on the part of officers was unwanted on his watch. Which by the way was not his watch, as the officers were being supervised by another watch commander having the same rank as the one I spoke with.

The driver told me before her car was towed away and the passenger was driven away, that one of the officers had asked her for her citation, and told her he was adding other charges because I was acting like a dick while he was speaking with my passenger. Henceforth I realized why that officer had been so quick to say "we are not going to have a legal joust here" as soon as I had arrived. Again, that did not bother me at the time. I did wave the patrol car down and asked him about the remark he made about my acting like a dick and, that being his reason for amending to the driver's citation. He had no problem whatsoever saying, "yes" with a smile.

I'm filing formal charges against both of the officers. It is the proper thing to do - not like calling him out and beating his ass. Surely there would be retaliation from his fellow officers, but who really cares about dying these days? Things are dismal enough without being insulted by the same police I support and donate freely to each year. No its not a payoff, its a responsibility that every citizen should live up to. I've changed now due to this event - it's simply wrong. How long does it take to figure out that a person has never been arrested and there are no fingerprints to wait for when a person has not committed any previous crimes?

I have no plans to do anything remotely stupid. Simply put, I will not tolerate disrespectful police officers as they are also bound by law - if you can provide substantial evidence, and I can. There is nothing defective with the rear lights on the driver's vehicle - the reason for the stop.

I will not disclose the exact comments made by these two officers... they've a lot to explain, as they were apparently too stupid that some mobile phones have voice recorder!

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