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Jun 21, 2007

Supreme Court on passengers’ rights against search and seizure

"Cops hate kids , kids hate cops , cops kill kids with warning shots.." - Ice T

Supreme Court on passengers’ rights against search and seizure
We'll get on our political high horse for a moment here, and say that Brendlin v. California, decided on June 18 by the Supreme Court of The United States, represents a bit of an about-face from the high court’s recent “security at any price” stance.

According to the text of the opinion, “Early in the morning of November 27, 2001, Deputy Sheriff Robert Brokenbrough and his partner saw a parked [1983 Buick Regal] with expired registration tags. In his ensuing conversation with the police dispatcher, Brokenbrough learned that an application for renewal of registration was being processed. The officers saw the car again on the road, and this time Brokenbrough noticed its display of a temporary operating permit with the number ‘11,’ indicating it was legal to drive the car through November.... The officers decided to pull the Buick over to verify that the permit matched the vehicle, even though, as Brokenbrough admitted later, there was nothing unusual about the permit or the way it was affixed.”

When Brokenbrough stopped the car, he asked the driver and passenger to identify themselves, and recognized passenger Bruce Brendlin as being wanted for parole violations. Brokenbrough arrested Brendlin and searched the car, finding methamphetamine paraphernalia on Brendlin's person.

After a lengthy appeals process with the State of California, the case made its way to the Supreme Court, where the ultimate decision stated, “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.”

The decision lists several points for protecting the passenger; most compelling to us is Justice Souter’s statement that, “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 full text of the decision is available at The Newspaper, where Hemmings learned about this story.
- By David Traver Adolphus

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