519 U.S. 408 (1997), 95-1268, Maryland v. Wilson

Docket Nº:Case No. 95-1268
Citation:519 U.S. 408, 117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41, 65 U.S.L.W. 4124
Party Name:MARYLAND v. WILSON
Case Date:February 19, 1997
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 408

519 U.S. 408 (1997)

117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41, 65 U.S.L.W. 4124

MARYLAND

v.

WILSON

Case No. 95-1268

United States Supreme Court

February 19, 1997

Argued December 11, 1996

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS OF MARYLAND

Syllabus

After stopping a speeding car in which respondent Wilson was a passenger, a Maryland state trooper ordered Wilson out of the car upon noticing his apparent nervousness. When Wilson exited, a quantity of cocaine fell to the ground. He was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The Baltimore County Circuit Court granted his motion to suppress the evidence, deciding that the trooper's ordering him out of the car constituted an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed, holding that the rule of Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, that an officer may as a matter of course order the driver of a lawfully stopped car to exit his vehicle, does not apply to passengers.

Held:

An officer making a traffic stop may order passengers to get out of the car pending completion of the stop. Statements by the Court in Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1047-1048 (Mimms "held that police may order persons out of an automobile during a [traffic] stop" (emphasis added)), and by Justice Powell in Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 155, n. 4 (Mimms held "that passengers. . . have no Fourth Amendment right not to be ordered from their vehicle, once a proper stop is made" (emphasis added)), do not constitute binding precedent, since the former statement was dictum, and the latter was contained in a concurrence. Nevertheless, the Mimms rule applies to passengers as well as to drivers. The Court therein explained that the touchstone of Fourth Amendment analysis is the reasonableness of the particular governmental invasion of a citizen's personal security, 434 U.S., at 108-109, and that reasonableness depends on a balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by officers, id., at 109. On the public interest side, the same weighty interest in officer safety is present regardless of whether the occupant of the stopped car is a driver, as in Mimms, see id., at 109-110, or a passenger, as here. Indeed, the danger to an officer from a traffic stop is likely to be greater when there are passengers in addition to the driver in the stopped car. On the personal liberty side, the case for passengers is stronger than that for the driver in the sense that there is probable cause to believe that the driver has committed a minor vehicular offense, see id., at 110, but there is no such reason to stop or detain

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passengers. But as a practical matter, passengers are already stopped by virtue of the stop of the vehicle, so that the additional intrusion upon them is minimal. Pp. 411-415.

106 Md.App. 24, 664 A.2d 1, reversed and remanded.

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'Connor, Scalia, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy, J., joined, post, p. 415. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 422.

J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General of Maryland, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Gary E. Bair, Mary Ellen Barbera, and Kathryn Grill Graeff, Assistant Attorneys General.

Byron L. Warnken, by appointment of the Court, 519 U.S. 804 (1996), argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.

Attorney General Reno argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. On the brief were Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, David C. Frederick, and Nina Goodman. [*]

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Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we consider whether the rule of Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977) (per curiam), that a police officer may as a matter of course order the driver of a lawfully stopped car to exit his vehicle, extends to passengers as well. We hold that it does.

At about 7:30 p.m. on a June evening, Maryland state trooper David Hughes observed a passenger car driving southbound on I-95 in Baltimore County at a speed of 64 miles per hour. The posted speed limit was 55 miles per hour, and the car had no regular license tag; there was a torn piece of paper reading "Enterprise Rent-A-Car" dangling from its rear. Hughes activated his lights and sirens, signaling the car to pull over, but it continued driving for another mile and a half until it finally did so.

During the pursuit, Hughes noticed that there were three occupants in the car and that the two passengers turned to look at him several times, repeatedly ducking below sight level and then reappearing. As Hughes approached the car on foot, the driver alighted and met him halfway. The driver was trembling and appeared extremely nervous, but nonetheless produced a valid Connecticut driver's license. Hughes instructed him to return to the car and retrieve the rental documents, and he complied. During this encounter, Hughes noticed that the front-seat passenger, respondent Jerry Lee Wilson, was sweating and also appeared extremely

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nervous. While the driver was sitting in the driver's seat looking for the rental papers, Hughes ordered Wilson out of the car.

When Wilson exited the car, a quantity of crack cocaine fell to the ground. Wilson was then arrested and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Before trial, Wilson moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that Hughes' ordering him out of the car constituted an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County agreed, and granted respondent's motion to suppress. On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed, 106 Md.App. 24, 664 A.2d 1(1995), ruling that Pennsylvania v. Mimms does not apply to passengers. The Court of Appeals of Maryland denied certiorari. 340 Md. 502, 667 A.2d 342 (1995). We granted certiorari, 518 U.S. 1003 (1996), and now reverse.

In Mimms, we considered a traffic stop much like the one before us today. There, Mimms had been stopped for driving with an expired license plate, and the officer asked him to step out of his car. When Mimms did so, the officer noticed a bulge in his jacket that proved to be a .38-caliber revolver, whereupon Mimms was arrested for carrying a concealed deadly weapon. Mimms, like Wilson, urged the suppression of the evidence on the ground that the officer's ordering him out of the car was an unreasonable seizure, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, like the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, agreed.

We reversed, explaining that "[t]he touchstone of our analysis under the Fourth Amendment is always 'the reasonableness in all the circumstances of the particular governmental invasion of a citizen's personal security,' " 434 U.S., at 108- 109 (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 (1968)), and that reasonableness "depends 'on a balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers,' " 434 U.S., at 109 (quoting United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873,

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878 (1975)). On the public interest side of the balance, we noted that the State "freely concede[d]" that there had been nothing unusual or suspicious to justify ordering Mimms out of the car, but that it was the officer's "practice to order all drivers [stopped in traffic stops] out of their vehicles as a matter of course" as a "precautionary measure" to protect the officer's safety. 434 U.S., at 109-110. We thought it "too plain for argument" that this justification—officer safety—was "both legitimate and weighty." Id., at 110. In addition, we observed that the danger to the officer of standing by the driver's door and in the path of oncoming traffic might also be "appreciable." Id., at 111.

On the other side of the balance, we considered the intrusion into the driver's liberty occasioned by the officer's ordering him out of the car. Noting that the driver's car was already validly stopped for a traffic infraction, we deemed the additional intrusion of asking him to step outside his car " de minimis. " Ibid. Accordingly, we concluded that "once a motor vehicle has been lawfully detained for a traffic violation, the police officers may order the driver to get out of the vehicle without violating the Fourth Amendment's proscription of unreasonable seizures." Id., at 111, n. 6.

Respondent urges, and the lower courts agreed, that this per se rule does not apply to Wilson because he was a passenger, not the driver. Maryland, in turn, argues that we have already implicitly decided this question by our statement in Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983), that "[i]n [Mimms], we held that police may order persons out of an automobile during a stop for a traffic violation," id., at 1047-1048 (emphasis added), and by Justice Powell's statement in Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978), that "this Court determined in [Mimms] that passengers in automobiles have no Fourth Amendment right not to be ordered from their vehicle, once a proper stop is made," id., at 155, n. 4 (Powell, J., joined by Burger, C. J., concurring) (emphasis added). We agree with respondent that the former statement was dictum, and the

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latter was contained in a concurrence, so that neither constitutes binding precedent.

We must therefore now decide whether the rule of Mimms applies to passengers as well as to drivers.[1] On the public interest side of the balance, the same weighty interest in officer safety is present regardless of whether the occupant of the stopped car is a driver or passenger. Regrettably, traffic stops may be dangerous encounters. In 1994 alone, there were 5,762...

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