On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court stood up for the 4th Amendment with a forceful unanimous ruling in Brendlin v. California:
WASHINGTON — Passengers in cars that are stopped by the police are “seized,” the U.S. Supreme Court said Monday, and therefore have a right to contest the legality of the stop if they are searched and arrested. The 9-0 ruling clarifies the law on traffic stops, and it overturns the view of the California Supreme Court. [LA Times]
The case involved a suspicionless “registration-check” traffic stop, which escalated into a search and arrest when the officer recognized Brendlin and determined that he was a parole violator.
There’s nothing particularly surprising about the Court’s determination that passengers are effectively seized when a traffic stop is made. To hold otherwise would be to suggest that passengers must immediately exit the vehicle and walk away the second the car comes to a stop, or else risk forfeiting their 4th Amendment rights. As the Court notes, no reasonable person would assume that they may simply walk away during a traffic stop, particularly before officers have a chance to see what’s going on in the vehicle.
It’s great to see the current Supreme Court reach a unanimous ruling in favor of 4th Amendment rights. Legal experts considered this case a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s still required reading for those of you who won’t stop shouting that the 4th Amendment is dead and buried.
Asserting your 4th Amendment rights during police encounters and issuing 4th Amendment challenges in court when those rights are violated is essential if we wish to preserve these freedoms for future generations to enjoy.