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Supreme Court confirms car passengers’ Fourth Amendment rights

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The Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

On June 18, 2007, the  United States Supreme Court unanimously held that arrested car passengers — not just drivers — have standing to challenge the legality of the car stop. The Fourth Amendment kicks in at the time of the stop of the car — rather than needing to await a formal arrest — because a Fourth Amendment seizure generally takes place at the time the police stop the car in which the passenger is riding. The case is Brendlin v. California, ___ U.S. ___ (June 18, 2007).

In the course of addressing the Supreme Court’s relevant precedents, Brendlin confirms that the Court previously ruled that a car’s driver is seized when police effectuate a traffic stop. As to passengers, Brendlin adds: "[A]lthough we have not, until today, squarely answered the question whether a passenger is also seized [by a police traffic stop], we have said over and over in dicta that during a traffic stop an officer seizes everyone in the vehicle, not just the driver."

Brendlin  notes that its conclusion that car passengers have Fourth Amendment standing to challenge a car stop "comports with the views of all nine Federal Courts of Appeals, and nearly every state court, to have ruled on the question." Nothing beats a clear Supreme Court ruling to show a trial judge to get the right Fourth Amendment ruling for a defendant. Jon Katz.