Monday, June 18, 2007

The Supreme Court Tackles More Traffic Issues: Brendlin v. California

I tend to blog about 5-4 decisions, whining about the majority opinion, but here we have a unanimous opinion, and one that I can agree with.

In Brendlin v. California (I'll direct you once again to the New York Times), the Court decided that a passenger in a vehicle that has been pulled over has just as much of a right to challenge the traffic stop as does the driver. This was a no-brainer (indeed, Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog describes this decision as "Applying a considerable dose of common sense"), for after all, when a vehicle is stopped, the passenger is restrained (or "seized" in Fourth Amendment terms) just as much as the driver is. Writing for the Court, Justice David Souter notes:

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.

So, in other words, unless a passenger reasonably assumes that he can leave during a traffic stop (which would presumably never happen, as passengers need permission to exit the vehicle), he has been seized, and thus has grounds for challenging the seizure in Court.

There isn't a whole lot to say about this case; it is a pretty dull case for the most part. All of the Courts of Appeals and nearly all of the State Courts agreed with this ruling. Only a select few State Courts (one of which was California) were senseless enough to argue that the passenger is not seized in a traffic stop.

I'm glad the Court put them in their place.

1 comment:

Christopher King said...

You might want to check the application of this case to the Franconia shooting tragedy.

Make sure to click the links because they all tell one hell of a story.