People v. Brendlin, S123133.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtBaxter
Citation38 Cal.4th 1107,45 Cal.Rptr.3d 50,136 P.3d 845
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Bruce Edward BRENDLIN, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. S123133.,S123133.
Decision Date29 June 2006
45 Cal.Rptr.3d 50
38 Cal.4th 1107
136 P.3d 845
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Bruce Edward BRENDLIN, Defendant and Appellant.
No. S123133.
Supreme Court of California.
June 29, 2006.

[45 Cal.Rptr.3d 51]

Elizabeth Campbell, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and James F. Johnson, San Francisco, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Manuel M. Medeiros, State Solicitor General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Mary Jo Graves, Assistant Attorney General, John G. McLean, Janet E. Neeley, Michael A. Canzoneri and Clifford E. Zall, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


136 P.3d 1111

When a peace officer directs the driver of a vehicle to pull over for a traffic stop but, in effecting the stop, gives no indication that the passenger of the vehicle is the focus of the officer's investigation or show of authority, is the passenger subjected to a "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment? This is a question that has divided courts inside and outside this state. We find that the passenger, whose progress is momentarily stopped as a practical matter, is not seized as a constitutional matter in the absence of additional circumstances that would indicate to a reasonable person that he or she was the subject of the peace officer's investigation or show of authority. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which (1) held that the passenger was automatically seized as a result of the traffic stop, (2) determined that the traffic stop was unlawful, and (3) suppressed the evidence of methamphetamine manufacturing found in the car and on defendant's person as the fruit of the illegal seizure.


Around 1:40 a.m. on November 27, 2001, Sutter County Sheriff's Deputy

45 Cal.Rptr.3d 52

Robert Charles Brokenbrough effected a traffic stop of a brown 1993 Buick Regal with expired registration tabs on Franklin Avenue in Yuba City. Prior to the stop, Deputy Brokenbrough confirmed through dispatch that the car's registration had expired two months earlier but that an application was "in process" to renew the registration. Although Deputy Brokenbrough observed that a temporary operating permit with the number "11" (indicating an expiration date at the end of November) had been taped to the rear window, he could not determine from his vantage point whether the permit matched the vehicle and decided to stop the Buick to investigate further.

Deputy Brokenbrough approached the driver's side of the Buick and asked the driver, Karen Simeroth, for her driver's license. He also asked defendant, the passenger, to identify himself, since he recognized defendant as one of the Brendlin brothers, Scott or Bruce, and recalled that one of them had absconded from parole supervision. During the inquiry, Deputy Brokenbrough observed receptacles in the car containing substances used in the production of methamphetamine. In response to the deputy's inquiry, defendant falsely identified himself as Bruce Brown. The deputy returned to his patrol vehicle and verified that Bruce Brendlin was a parolee at large and had an outstanding no-bail warrant for his arrest. During this period, defendant opened and then closed the passenger door of the Buick.

After requesting backup, Deputy Brokenbrough pointed his weapon at defendant, ordered him out of the car, and placed him under arrest for the

136 P.3d 1112

parole violation. The entire episode, from the time Deputy Brokenbrough asked Simeroth for her driver's license to his discovery that defendant had an outstanding warrant, lasted a couple of minutes.

Police found an orange syringe cap on defendant's person during a search incident to arrest. They found two hypodermic needles (one of which was missing a syringe cap), two baggies containing a total of 12.43 grams of marijuana, and a baggie containing 0.46 grams of methamphetamine on Simeroth's person during a patsearch and a subsequent search incident to her arrest. Materials used in manufacturing methamphetamine were found in the back seat of the Buick.

After a hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, the superior court held that defendant had not been seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment until Deputy Brokenbrough ordered him out of the car at gunpoint and placed him under arrest: "He was free to leave. And if he had opened the door and got out and taken a hike, then this officer would have had to decide whether he had something less than probable cause to detain him, and then he would have been detained. But he wasn't detained because he never went anywhere; but he had a right to if he wanted to." The court determined next that even if defendant had been seized at an earlier point, the traffic stop was lawful; even if the stop had been unlawful, defendant, as a passenger, lacked standing1 to suppress the items seized from the Buick.

45 Cal.Rptr.3d 53

Following the denial of his motion to suppress, defendant pleaded guilty to manufacturing methamphetamine (Health & Saf.Code, § 11379.6, subd. (a)) and admitted a prior prison term enhancement (Pen. Code, § 667.5, subd. (b)). He was sentenced to four years in prison.

The Court of Appeal reversed in a published opinion. It held that a traffic stop necessarily results in a detention (and, hence, a seizure (People v. Glaser (1995) 11 Cal.4th 354, 363, 45 Cal.Rptr.2d 425, 902 P.2d 729)) of both the driver and the passengers, rejecting the analysis and holdings of People v. Castellon (1999) 76 Cal. App.4th 1369, 1373-1374, 91 Cal.Rptr.2d 204; People v. Cartwright (1999) 72 Cal. App.4th 1362, 1367-1369, 85 Cal.Rptr.2d 788; and People v. Fisher (1995) 38 Cal. App.4th 338, 343-344, 45

Cal.Rptr.2d 57. The Court of Appeal further found that the stop was unlawful in that Deputy Brokenbrough, who knew that the vehicle's application to renew its registration was in process and who had seen the temporary permit in the rear window, had "at most a hunch" that "the temporary operating permit displayed in the window might not belong to the car and, thus, it was being unlawfully operated as an unregistered vehicle." The court ruled that the evidence seized from defendant as well as from the Buick should have been suppressed.

We granted review, limited to (1) whether defendant, as a passenger in a vehicle subjected to a traffic stop, was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment; and (2) whether reasonable suspicion exists that a car is unregistered when it exhibits an expired registration tab on its license plate but displays what appears to be a valid temporary operating permit in its rear window.


"In ruling on a motion to suppress, the trial court must find the historical facts, select the rule of law, and apply it to the facts in order to determine whether the law as applied has been violated. (People v. Ayala (2000) 24 Cal.4th 243, 279 [99 Cal.Rptr.2d 532, 6 P.3d 193].) We review the court's resolution of the factual inquiry under the deferential substantial evidence standard. The ruling on whether the applicable law applies to the facts is a mixed question of law and fact that is subject to independent review. (Ibid.)" (People v. Ramos (2004) 34 Cal.4th 494, 505, 21 Cal.Rptr.3d 575, 101 P.3d 478.)2

45 Cal.Rptr.3d 54

In evaluating whether the fruits of a search or seizure should have been suppressed, we consider only the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on

136 P.3d 1114

unreasonable searches and seizures. (People v. Carter (2005) 36 Cal.4th 1114, 1141, 32 Cal. Rptr.3d 759, 117 P.3d 476.) "The proponent of a motion to suppress has the burden of establishing that his own Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the challenged search or seizure." (Rakas v. Illinois (1978) 439 U.S. 128, 131, fn. 1, 99 S.Ct. 421, 58 L.Ed.2d 387.)

Prior to the vehicle stop here, Deputy Brokenbrough noticed that the registration tabs on the Buick's license plate were expired. However, he also observed a current temporary operating permit in the car's rear window and had received radio confirmation that an application for renewal of the vehicle's registration was indeed in process. Conceding that "[a] vehicle with an application for renewal of expired registration would be expected to have a temporary operating permit," the Attorney General no longer argues that Deputy Brokenbrough had articulable suspicion the Buick's registration was invalid. The Attorney General argues instead that defendant has no entitlement to suppression of the evidence uncovered during the traffic stop because he, as a passenger, was not seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment until Deputy Brokenbrough ordered him out of the car at gunpoint and arrested him under the outstanding no-bail warrant, which provided lawful cause for the seizure. Defendant, on the other hand, argues that he was seized at the moment the driver submitted to the show of official authority and stopped the car, which preceded the deputy's discovery of the outstanding warrant.3

It is well settled that the driver of a vehicle that is the subject of a traffic stop is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. (Whren v. United States (1996) 517 U.S. 806, 809-810, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89.) Neither this court nor the United States Supreme Court, however, has yet decided whether the driver's submission to the show of authority results in a seizure of the passenger. A majority of courts, including several federal circuit courts and some state courts, have embraced a per se rule that the passenger is seized at the moment the driver submits to the official show of authority. (E.g., U.S. v. Twilley (9th Cir. 2000) 222 F.3d 1092, 1095; U.S. v. Eylicio-Montoya (10th Cir.1995) 70 F.3d 1158, 1163-1164; U.S. v. Kimball (1st Cir.1994) 25 F.3d 1, 5; U.S. v. Roberson (5th Cir. 1993) 6 F.3d 1088, 1091; U.S. v. Powell (7th Cir.1991) 929 F.2d 1190, 1195; State v....

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