551 U.S. 249 (2007), 06-8120, Brendlin v. California

Docket Nº:06-8120.
Citation:551 U.S. 249, 127 S.Ct. 2400, 168 L.Ed.2d 132
Opinion Judge:Souter, Justice
Party Name:Bruce Edward BRENDLIN, Petitioner, v. CALIFORNIA.
Case Date:June 18, 2007
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 249

551 U.S. 249 (2007)

127 S.Ct. 2400, 168 L.Ed.2d 132

Bruce Edward BRENDLIN, Petitioner,



No. 06-8120.

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 2007

Argued April 23, 2007.

[127 S.Ct. 2401] SYLLABUS

After officers stopped a car to check its registration without reason to believe it was being operated unlawfully, one of them recognized petitioner Brendlin, a passenger in the car. Upon verifying that Brendlin was a parole violator, the officers formally arrested him and searched him, the driver, and the car, finding, among other things, methamphetamine paraphernalia. Charged with possession and manufacture of that substance, Brendlin moved to suppress the evidence obtained in searching his person and the car, arguing [127 S.Ct. 2402] that the officers lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop, which was an unconstitutional seizure of his person. The trial court denied the motion, but the California Court of Appeal reversed, holding that Brendlin was seized by the traffic stop, which was unlawful. Reversing, the State Supreme Court held that suppression was unwarranted because a passenger is not seized as a constitutional matter absent additional circumstances that would indicate to a reasonable person that he was the subject of the officer's investigation or show of authority.


When police make a traffic stop, a passenger in the car, like the driver, is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and so may challenge the stop's constitutionality. Pp. 254-263.

(a) A person is seized and thus entitled to challenge the government's action when officers, by physical force or a show of authority, terminate or restrain the person's freedom of movement through means intentionally applied. Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389; Brower v. County of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 597, 109 S.Ct. 1378, 103 L.Ed.2d 628. There is no seizure without that person's actual submission. See, e.g., California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 626, n. 2, 111 S.Ct. 1547, 113 L.Ed.2d 690. When police actions do not show an unambiguous intent to restrain or when an individual's submission takes the form of passive acquiescence, the test for telling when a seizure occurs is whether, in light of all the surrounding circumstances, a reasonable person would have believed he was not free to leave. E.g., United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (principal opinion). But when a person "has no desire to leave" for reasons unrelated to the police presence, the "coercive effect of the encounter" can be measured better by asking whether "a reasonable person would feel free to decline the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the encounter." Bostick, supra, at 435-436, 111 S.Ct. 2382. Pp. 254-256.

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(b) Brendlin was seized because no reasonable person in his position when the car was stopped would have believed himself free to "terminate the encounter" between the police and himself. Bostick, supra, at 436, 111 S.Ct. 2382. Any reasonable passenger would have understood the 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 a passenger's travel just as much as it halts the driver, diverting both from the stream of traffic to the side of the road, and the police activity that normally amounts to intrusion on "privacy and personal security" does not normally (and did not here) distinguish between passenger and driver. United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 554, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116. An officer who orders a particular car to pull over acts with an implicit claim of right based on fault of some sort, and a sensible person would not expect the officer to allow people to come and go freely from the physical focal point of an investigation into faulty behavior or wrongdoing. If the likely wrongdoing is not the driving, the passenger will reasonably feel subject to suspicion owing to close association; but even when the wrongdoing is only bad driving, the passenger will expect to be subject to some scrutiny, and his attempt to leave would be so obviously likely to prompt an objection from the officer that no passenger would feel free to leave in the first place. It is also reasonable for passengers to expect that an officer at the scene of a crime, arrest, or investigation will not let people move around in ways that could jeopardize his safety. See, e.g., Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 414-415, 117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41. [127 S.Ct. 2403] The Court's conclusion comports with the views of all nine Federal Courts of Appeals, and nearly every state court, to have ruled on the question. Pp. 256-259.

(c) The State Supreme Court's contrary conclusion reflects three premises with which this Court respectfully disagrees. First, the view that the police only intended to investigate the car's driver and did not direct a show of authority toward Brendlin impermissibly shifts the issue from the intent of the police as objectively manifested to the motive of the police for taking the intentional action to stop the car. Applying the objective Mendenhall test resolves any ambiguity by showing that a reasonable passenger would understand that he was subject to the police display of authority. Second, the state court's assumption that Brendlin, as the passenger, had no ability to submit to the police show of authority because only the driver was in control of the moving car is unavailing. Brendlin had no effective way to signal submission while the car was moving, but once it came to a stop he could, and apparently did, submit by staying inside. Third, there is no basis for the state court's fear that adopting the rule this Court applies would encompass even those motorists whose movement has been impeded due

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to the traffic stop of another car. An occupant of a car who knows he is stuck in traffic because another car has been pulled over by police would not perceive the show of authority as directed at him or his car. Pp. 259-263.

(d) The state courts are left to consider in the first instance whether suppression turns on any other issue. P. 263.

38 Cal.4th 1107, 45 Cal.Rptr.3d 50, 136 P.3d 845, vacated and remanded.


Elizabeth M. Campbell, by appointment of the Court, 549 U.S. 1263, argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs were Jeffrey T. Green, Richard A. Kaplan, and Sarah O'Rourke Schrup.

Clifford E. Zall, Deputy Attorney General of California, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General, Manuel M. Medeiros, State Solicitor General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Donald E. de Nicola, Deputy State Solicitor, Michael A. Canzoneri, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, and Doris A. Calandra, Deputy Attorney General. [*]


Souter, Justice

When a police officer makes a traffic stop, the driver of the car is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The question in this case is whether the same is true of a passenger. We hold that a passenger is seized as well and so may challenge the constitutionality of the stop.

Page 252


Early in the morning of November 27, 2001, Deputy Sheriff Robert Brokenbrough and his partner saw a parked Buick with expired registration tags. In his ensuing conversation with the police dispatcher, [127 S.Ct. 2404] Brokenbrough learned that an application for renewal of registration was being processed. The officers saw the car again on the road, and this time Brokenbrough noticed its display of a temporary operating permit with the number "11," indicating it was legal to drive the car through November. App. 115. The officers decided to pull the Buick over to verify that the permit matched the vehicle, even though, as Brokenbrough admitted later, there was nothing unusual about the permit or the way it was affixed. Brokenbrough asked the driver, Karen Simeroth, for her license and saw a passenger in the front seat, petitioner Bruce Brendlin, whom he recognized as "one of the Brendlin brothers." Id., at 65. He recalled that either Scott or Bruce Brendlin had dropped out of parole supervision and asked Brendlin to identify himself. 1 Brokenbrough returned to his cruiser, called for backup, and verified that Brendlin was a parole violator with an outstanding no-bail warrant for his arrest. While he was in the patrol car, Brokenbrough saw Brendlin briefly open and then close the passenger door of the Buick. Once reinforcements arrived, Brokenbrough went to the passenger side of the Buick, ordered him out of the car at gunpoint, and declared him under arrest. When the police searched Brendlin incident to arrest, they found an orange syringe cap on his person. A patdown search of Simeroth revealed syringes and a plastic bag of a green leafy substance, and she was also formally arrested. Officers then searched the car and found tubing, a scale, and other things used to produce methamphetamine.

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Brendlin was charged with possession and manufacture of methamphetamine, and he moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the searches of his person and the car as fruits of an unconstitutional seizure, arguing that the officers lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop. He did not assert that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the search of Simeroth's vehicle, cf. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 99 S.Ct. 421, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978), but claimed only that the traffic stop was an unlawful seizure of his person. The trial court denied the suppression motion after finding that the stop was lawful and Brendlin...

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