Maryland v. Wilson

Decision Date19 February 1997
Docket Number951268
Citation519 U.S. 408,117 S.Ct. 882,137 L.Ed.2d 41
PartiesMARYLAND, Petitioner, v. Jerry Lee WILSON
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
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, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331, 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, 103 S.Ct. 3469, 3480, 77 L.Ed.2d 1201 (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, 99 S.Ct. 421, 436, n. 4, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (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, 98 S.Ct., at 332, 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, 98 S.Ct., at 332. 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, 98 S.Ct., at 332-333, 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, 98 S.Ct., at 333, but there is no such reason to stop or detain 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. ___-___.

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. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Baltimore, MD, for petitioner.

Janet Reno, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court.

Byron L. Warnken, Baltimore, MD, appointed by this Court, for respondent.

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, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977), 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 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. ____, 116 S.Ct. 2521, 135 L.Ed.2d 1046 (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, 98 S.Ct., at 332 (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1878-1879, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (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,''' id., at 109, 98 S.Ct., at 332 (quoting United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 2579, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (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. Id., at 109-110, 98 S.Ct., at 332-333. We thought it "too plain for argument'' that this justification-officer safety-was "both legitimate and weighty.'' Id., at 110, 98 S.Ct., at 333. 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, 98 S.Ct., at 333.

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, 98 S.Ct., at 333, 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, 103 S.Ct. 3469, 77 L.Ed.2d 1201 (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, 103 S.Ct., at 3479 (emphasis added), and by Justice Powell's statement in Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 99 S.Ct. 421, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (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, 99 S.Ct., at 436, n. 4 (Powell, J., joined by Burger, C.J., concurring) (emphasis added). We agree with respondent that the former statement was dictum, and the 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 officer assaults and 11 officers...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1658 cases
  • Jackson v. Com.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals
    • February 4, 2003
    ...of a vehicle and questioning its occupants, an officer may order a passenger out of the vehicle. See Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 415, 117 S.Ct. 882, 886, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997); Harris v. Commonwealth, 27 Va.App. 554, 561-63, 500 S.E.2d 257, 260-61 (1998); Welshman, 28 Va.App. at 31-33......
  • State v. Parker
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • November 4, 1999
    ...to employ violence to prevent apprehension of such a crime is every bit as great as that of the driver. Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 413-14, 117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997). The majority relies on cases involving the searches of locations pursuant to a premises warrant and to case......
  • Williams v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals
    • January 14, 2020
    ...but from the fact that evidence of a more serious crime might be uncovered during the stop.’ " (quoting Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 414, 117 S.Ct. 882, 886, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997) )); Kidd v. Commonwealth, 38 Va. App. 433, 444, 565 S.E.2d 337 (2002) (noting that during a lawful detenti......
  • United States v. Weaver
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • September 15, 2020
    ...omitted). Subsequent Supreme Court cases extended the rule in Terry and Mimms to automobile passengers. See Maryland v. Wilson , 519 U.S. 408, 117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997) (holding that police officers can order automobile passengers out of the vehicle during traffic stops); see als......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • 4th Circuit Holds Livestreaming Traffic Stop May Be Protected
    • United States
    • LexBlog United States
    • February 8, 2023
    ...Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373, 387 (2014). And risks to officers are particularly acute during traffic stops. See Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 414 (1997); Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1047 (1983). But even though the Town has a strong interest in protecting its officers, Defend......
74 books & journal articles
  • The context of ideology: law, politics, and empirical legal scholarship.
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 75 No. 1, December - December 2010
    • December 22, 2010
    ...Babbit v. Youpee, 519 U.S. 234 (1997). 137/0001 Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of W.N.Y., 519 U.S. 357 (1997). 137/0041 Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997). 137/0055 Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425 (1997). 137/0063 Lynce v. Mathis, 519 U.S. 433 (1997). 137/0093 Dunn v. ......
  • Motor Vehicle Searches
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2017 Contents
    • August 4, 2017
    ...the car may be questioned, ordered out of the car, and temporarily detained. Arizona v. Johnson , 555 U.S. 323(2009); Maryland v. Wilson , 519 U.S. 408 (1997); Pennsylvania v. Mimms , 434 U.S. 106 (1977). §6:11 State Law and Other Limits on Police Action However, you should check your own j......
  • THE ORIGINS AND LEGACY OF THE FOURTH AMENDMENT REASONABLENESS-BALANCING MODEL.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 71 No. 1, September 2020
    • September 22, 2020
    ...and accompanying text. For other opinions in the Terry line of cases making similar use of the touchstone clause, see Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 411 (1997), and Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1051 (1983). (192.) See Mimms, 434 U.S. at 109 (citing United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 42......
  • Motor vehicle searches
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Fourth amendment searches and seizures
    • April 1, 2022
    ...the car may be questioned, ordered out of the car, and temporarily detained. Arizona v. Johnson , 555 U.S. 323(2009); Maryland v. Wilson , 519 U.S. 408 (1997); Pennsylvania v. Mimms , 434 U.S. 106 (1977). Some courts have taken this to absurd lengths. In State v. Warren , 499 P.3d 423 (Idah......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT