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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Car Passengers

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 18, 2007; 1:04 PM

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that a passenger in a vehicle has the same right as a driver to challenge the constitutionality of a traffic stop.

The court decided that when police stop a vehicle, passengers are "seized" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and -- like drivers -- can dispute the legality of a search.

The ruling overturned a California Supreme Court decision in the case of Bruce Edward Brendlin, who was arrested on parole violation and drug charges after a November 2001 traffic stop in Yuba City, Calif. Brendlin, who subsequently was sentenced to four years in prison, appealed his conviction on the grounds that the drug evidence should have been suppressed because the traffic stop amounted to "an unlawful seizure of his person," according to today's ruling.

Although the state acknowledged that police "had no adequate justification" to stop the car, in which Brendlin was a passenger in the front seat, it argued that he was not "seized" and thus could not challenge the government's action under the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure protections. Government lawyers also argued that Brendlin could not claim that the evidence against him was tainted by an unconstitutional stop, according to the ruling.

The California Supreme Court sided with the state in the case, known as Brendlin v. California, reasoning that Brendlin was not seized because the car's driver was the exclusive target of the traffic stop and that a passenger "would feel free to depart or otherwise to conduct his or her affairs as though the police were not present."

The Supreme Court, however, rejected that argument today on grounds that a "reasonable passenger" would not feel free to simply leave the scene of a traffic stop.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice David H. Souter ruled that "a traffic stop necessarily curtails the travel a passenger has chosen just as much as it halts the driver. . . ." He said a "a sensible person would not expect a police officer to allow people to come and go freely" from the scene of a stop.

The court found that "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."

A ruling that a passenger in a car is not seized in 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."

The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP made similar arguments in support of Brendlin, arguing that if the Supreme Court ruled in California's favor, police would be able to conduct arbitrary traffic stops aimed at passengers, especially minorities.

Most state and federal courts already permitted challenges by passengers, the Associated Press reported. However, California, Colorado and Washington state did not.

The case originated when a deputy sheriff and his partner spotted a parked Buick with expired registration tags and, upon checking with a dispatcher, learned that an application for renewal of the registration was being processed. When the officers later saw the car on the road, the deputy sheriff decided to pull it over to verify that a temporary operating permit valid through the end of the month matched the vehicle. Police later acknowledged that there was nothing unusual about the permit.

The deputy sheriff, Robert Brokenbrough, saw a passenger in the front seat, asked him to identify himself and verified that he was "a parole violator with an outstanding no-bail warrant for his arrest," today's opinion said.

Brokenbrough then ordered Brendlin out of the car at gunpoint and declared him under arrest. In a search, police found an orange syringe cap on Brendlin and syringes and marijuana on the driver, who also was arrested. In the car, police also found tubing, a scale and items used to produce methamphetamine.

Brendlin was charged with possession and manufacture of methamphetamine. He moved to suppress the evidence found on him and in the car as the fruits of an unconstitutional seizure, arguing that police lacked probable cause to stop the vehicle.

The trial court denied his motion to suppress, but the California Court of Appeal reversed the denial. The case then went to the state Supreme Court, which narrowly overturned the appellate court's decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court said it agreed to hear the case "to decide whether a traffic stop subjects a passenger, as well as the driver, to Fourth Amendment seizure." In vacating the California Supreme Court's judgment, Souter wrote, "We hold that a passenger is seized as well and so may challenge the constitutionality of the stop."
 
Posts: 477 | Location: Parker County, Texas | Registered: March 22, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Hold on a minute. The person complaining of the search had an open warrant for a parole violation. So, what difference does it make whether he had a privacy interest? The warrant trumped any interest.

In Texas, there are many cases indicating that the discovery of an open warrant supercedes any taint arising from an illegal detention. The arrest is justified by the warrant.

What would otherwise have to happen? Defendant is released, only to be re-arrested on the warrant?

Why isn't anyone discussing the warrant?
 
Posts: 7860 | Location: Georgetown, Texas | Registered: January 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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How should this affect Fail to ID cases of passengers?
 
Posts: 1089 | Location: UNT Dallas | Registered: June 29, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I think the court just wanted to decide the issue in a case where there was no reason to stop the car at all. Those are not so common. Also the California courts did not address attenuation or intervening circumstances, so the high court could simply say: "It will be for the state courts to consider in the first instance whether suppression turns on any other issue." You are right that Brendlin has won a battle but will lose the war once the warrant is taken into account. The court could have cited Lewis, 664 S.W.2d 345 for the Texas position on this issue.

[This message was edited by Martin Peterson on 06-19-07 at .]
 
Posts: 2369 | Registered: February 07, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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From the majority opinion before the California Supreme Court:

"Defendant, on the other hand, argues that he was seized at the moment the driver submitted to the show of official authority and stopped the car, which preceded the deputy's discovery of the outstanding warrant."

What the heck? So, any mistake made before the discovery of a warrant makes an arrest pursuant to a warrant bogus? That's crazy thinking. The discovery of the warrant attenuates the illegal detention and justifies the arrest and subsequent search pursuant to arrest.

For a detailed explanation, see Week v. State, 865 S.W.2d 128, pet. refused.

[This message was edited by JB on 06-19-07 at .]
 
Posts: 7860 | Location: Georgetown, Texas | Registered: January 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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But if you extend that logic, aren't you really saying that officers can just stop cars for no reason at all, and just check for warrants on the driver/passengers?
If no one has a warrant, let them go, and if someone does then make an arrest, do a search, etc?
I guess we could have "warrant check" stops. Or, if an officer doesn't like the look of someone, but doesn't have any reason to stop them, he can go ahead and do it, and maybe he'll get lucky and they'll have a warrant, which will forgive the completely illegal stop.
 
Posts: 11 | Registered: June 19, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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That's not extending the logic, that's missing the point. If you have a warrant, you are subject to being seized at any moment. This is not to say that officers can violate everybody else's rights in order to find warranted individuals. Only that if you have an outstanding warrant, you do not have the same right to complain about it that the rest of us have, because you have no reasonable expectation of NOT being seized.

The rest of us would still have a remedy for flagrant violations of our rights. For a discussion touching on that issue, see this thread.
 
Posts: 622 | Location: San Marcos | Registered: November 13, 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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But who would really do anything if an officer pulled them over and said, "I'm just checking for warrants. Name and DOB, please." Then he finds your clear and lets you go. Very few people.
And generally, the people he's going to be pulling over in this manner are not going to have the idea that they could do anything about it, or the resources to do it even if they did.

So, you do agree, though, that to say the warrant forgives the illegal stop would allow officers to stop people for no reason, and then check for warrants?
 
Posts: 11 | Registered: June 19, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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No, I do not agree. An active warrant takes away your right to move about free from interference. Therefore, if you are stopped, no right of yours has been violated, regardless of whether the police officer believed he had other reasonable suspicion to make a stop. That does not "allow officers to stop people for no reason, and then check for warrants."

A police officer who randomly stops people without reasonable suspicion in the hopes of finding someone with a warrant is knowingly violating the rights of most of those people. That is not "allowed."
 
Posts: 622 | Location: San Marcos | Registered: November 13, 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I almost get the feeling that you would say the driver who has a passenger with a warrant (even if the driver doesn't know about it) has forfeited his right to move about free from police contact.
Basically, the police can pull you over for no reason, find a warrant on your passenger, and you're out of luck as well.

Putting the warrant issue aside, do you agree with the holding in the Brendlin case - that a passenger should have standing to contest an illegal stop?
 
Posts: 11 | Registered: June 19, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Sounds like someone has a liberal bias and a preconceived notion of how police are motivated to enforce the law. Also sounds like someone who believes that any stumble by the officer should result in a windfall to the wrongdoer.

Many civilized nations don't have an exclusionary rule. They find other ways to respond to the misstep of an officer.

How about telling us something about yourself, your identity and your connection to law enforcement? I am curious as to why you are so quick to believe the worst of all police officers.

[This message was edited by JB on 06-19-07 at .]

[This message was edited by JB on 06-19-07 at .]
 
Posts: 7860 | Location: Georgetown, Texas | Registered: January 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by JB:
Many civilized nations don't have an exclusionary rule. They find other ways to respond to the misstep of an officer.



You make a point, JB. We've had the exclusionary rule for such a long time that people have somehow gotten around to thinking that it is right for a criminal to go free if his rights are violated. The rule was never intended to protect the wrongdoers, it was designed to protect the innocent. The problem is, its practical effect is to provide the greatest benefit to the criminals. Its most insidious effect has been to ingrain in the minds of many Americans the idea that police misconduct, whether intentional or not, somehow makes the guilty innocent.

The exclusionary rule is analogous to a rule that says if I hurt you, but someone else hurts me, then you weren't hurt in the first place. Talk about two wrongs making a right.
 
Posts: 622 | Location: San Marcos | Registered: November 13, 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by JB:
Sounds like someone has a liberal bias and a preconceived notion of how police are motivated to enforce the law. Also sounds like someone who believes that any stumble by the officer should result in a windfall to the wrongdoer.


Actually, he/she just sounds like a defense lawyer to me. "Not that there's anything wrong with that" -- some of my favorite posters on our forum are ex-prosecutors. Healthy debate never hurt anyone, as long as it's honest debate. At least we allow that on our website, unlike our friends across the bar. Wink
 
Posts: 2420 | Location: TDCAA | Registered: March 08, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Here's where I'm coming from: I have a 2 year old son and a 6 month old daughter. If you met them, you would quickly conclude that they are the most beautiful, smartest kids you've ever met. I hope I'm doing a good job raising them, but who really knows how they'll turn out, right? When they get older, if they go down the wrong path, make a stupid decision, etc., I still want them to have the full protections of the Constitution. I don't want that to be chipped away using the "ends justifies the means," rationale. The "well, yeah, but he was committing a crime" rationale. I want the government to have to "follow the rules." And when they don't, it shouldn't be overlooked because someone was committing a crime.
The "rules" were made for criminals. Right to counsel? Right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures? How we apply those rights to criminals is "where the rubber meets the road." I've never been accused of a crime, so, frankly, those rights don't hit home personally with me. But reading this forum gives me the sense that some of you feel as though if you were committing a crime, you've pretty much forfeited your rights, and if the person complains about it, your response is, "well, you shouldn't have been committing a crime."
To say that these rights are to protect the innocent is flat out wrong. These rights are to protect every citizen from the government.
 
Posts: 11 | Registered: June 19, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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We all "get" it, LawAg. I think the question being asked is, Does the constitution have to result in this absurdity in which a wanted person who has an active arrest warrant pending against them must be let go by the police because of a good-faith error made in regard to the detention of another person (who just happens to be the driver of the car in which the wanted person was traveling)? Because whatever the legal principals involved, it is surely an absurdity under any non-legal principal.

Discuss.

p.s. - Reading LawAg's post made me think of the scene from Animal House where Otter appears before the disciplinary counsel ("Don't worry, I'm pre-law." "I thought you were pre-med?" "What's the difference?"), makes a rousing speech in defense of Delta House that has nothing to do with the charges against them ("This isn't about whether we took a few liberties with our dates -- we did"), and then concludes it by saying "... and I am not going to sit hear and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!", then leads his parade of frat brothers out of the disciplinary hearing to a standing ovation after admitting their guilt to every charge against them. Classic! Big Grin
 
Posts: 2420 | Location: TDCAA | Registered: March 08, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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To clarify further. Yes, the average citizen is presumed innocent, even if he is caught red-handed, until a court decides the evidence was legally obtained and a trial is held. But, this passenger was not the average citizen. He was a formally convicted felon who had received the grace of a parole board for early release, then violated that merciful decision by violating his parole (for reasons not disclosed in the California or USSC opinion). So, setting aside his as yet unproven guilt for possessing drugs, why should he get a walk on the legality of the discovery of those drugs when there was a piece of paper authorizing anyone in the State who found the passenger to arrest and conduct a search incident to that arrest? What could be the possible good government, flag-waving reason for a suppression windfall under those very limited and special circumstances?
 
Posts: 7860 | Location: Georgetown, Texas | Registered: January 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I love anytime when Animal House is invoked on the TDCAA website. AgLaw did not answer the question as to his background. AgLaw are you a law student, lawyer, law enforcement, fiction writer, etc????

Additionally, how does AgLaw feel about the legal principle of Double Secret Probation?
 
Posts: 293 | Location: San Antonio | Registered: January 27, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by LawAg:
The "rules" were made for criminals.


That's wrong. The "rules"--all of them--are designed to protect the innocent, not the guilty. The only reason "criminals" even get to use them is because they are presumed not to be criminals before conviction. By committing a crime, you DO forfeit many of your rights...observe the fact that a convicted felon cannot vote, probably the most sanctified right of any citizen. But we don't give effect to such forfeitures until after proof of guilt in court, because we don't consider a person to be a criminal simply because one policeman says that's what he thinks.

I would hypothesize that if the framers of the constitution had believed that criminals could be identified with absolute certainty without trial, and the government's agents could be trusted absolutely, then there would be none of the rights we are discussing, because they would be unnecessary. But the framers' mistrust of government and desire to avoid the abuse of governmental power does not imply a desire to protect guilty criminals from justice.

If we could craft a system that protected only the innocent, we'd do it. Nobody wants to give these rights to the guilty, but we do because we are afraid of what will happen if the innocent don't have them.

Are you really suggesting that you want you children to grow up in a world that maximizes their chances of avoiding responsibility for taking a criminal path? Suppose the "wrong path" or "stupid decisions" by somebody else's children result in your kids being victims of crime. Do you really favor the guilty escaping without consequences, or like the rest of us, will you admit that it is a necessary evil in a free society?
 
Posts: 622 | Location: San Marcos | Registered: November 13, 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Right on, Shannon, and to quote SCOTUS Justice Scalia..."What Would Jack Bauer Do"?
 
Posts: 2578 | Location: The Great State of Texas | Registered: December 26, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Shannon Edmonds:
We all "get" it, LawAg. I think the question being asked is, Does the constitution have to result in this absurdity in which a wanted person who has an active arrest warrant pending against them must be let go by the police because of a good-faith error made in regard to the detention of another person (who just happens to be the driver of the car in which the wanted person was traveling)? Because whatever the legal principals involved, it is surely an absurdity under any non-legal principal.Big Grin



Shannon, I would be the first to admit that I haven't read the actual opinion, only the news article that I originally posted. By in large, I have no problem with good faith errors by law enforcement. But the story seems to imply that the car had already renewed its registration and was operating under a temporary permit and that law enforcement knew that at the time. So it doesn't seem to me to neatly fit within a good faith exception.

The real issue is the extension of standing to passengers of motor vehicles to challenge the probable cause. If the ruling is going to be that a temporary occupant of a vehicle has standing to challenge the original PC, logic dictates that its going to be expanded to temporary visitors of homes, apartments, hotels. Thats an argument that we've largely been able to avoid at conventions of the "criminally stupid" at the local flea bag motel.
 
Posts: 477 | Location: Parker County, Texas | Registered: March 22, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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