06/18/2007

Supreme Court: Passengers can challenge police stop

By Mark Sherman
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Passengers, like drivers, have a constitutional right to challenge the legality of police decisions to stop cars in which they are traveling, the Supreme Court said Monday.

Bruce Brendlin was convicted of drug possession after a sheriff's deputy stopped a car in which he was a passenger in Yuba City, Calif., in 2001.

Brendlin was wanted for a parole violation, although the deputy who ordered the car to pull over didn't know beforehand that Brendlin was in the vehicle.

Brendlin appealed his conviction, arguing that the drug evidence should be suppressed because it was found as the result of an illegal stop. The state has since conceded there was no basis to stop the car.

But California also argued that Brendlin's conviction should stand because only the driver was covered by the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Justice David Souter, writing for a unanimous court, disagreed. "A traffic stop necessarily curtails the travel a passenger has chosen just as much as it halts the driver," Souter said.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP backed Brendlin, arguing that a ruling in the state's favor would encourage police to conduct arbitrary traffic stops to target passengers, especially minorities, who lack the same rights as drivers.

Most state and federal courts already permit challenges by passengers. California, Colorado and Washington state do not.

The case is Brendlin v. California, 06-8120.

Related Article:
Brendlin v. California: What the S.C. ruling means for law enforcement
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