The Associated Press is reporting that the Supreme Court has ruled that passengers in automobiles have the same Constitutional protections from illegal searches.
Bruce Brendlin was arrested in 2001 for drug possession after a car in which he was a passenger was stopped by Yuba City police. The State had conceded there was no basis for the original vehicle stop, so Brendlin had argued that the drug evidence should be suppressed.
Now the state made an interesting argument. They claimed the conviction should stand because the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure applied only to the driver. This would not have been a hard for even me to decide. I believe, based on junior high school civics classes, that the Constitution applies to everyone all the time (except when the “decider” says it doesn’t…enemy combatants).
Surprisingly, the court decision was unanimous. David Souter wrote for the Court:
We think that in these circumstances, any reasonable passenger would have understood the police officers to be exercising control to the point that no one in the car was free to depart without police permission. A traffic stop necessarily curtails the travel a passenger has chosen just as much as it halts the driver.
I guess Souter had watched a few episodes of “Cops.” Let someone that’s a passenger in a vehicle stopped by a police officer try to just walk away…yeah right. So finally, a little sanity from the court.