Case of the Week Archive

Brendlin v. California - USSC

Police stopped a car unlawfully, a fact the State conceded, to check the registration. The defendant, a passenger in the car, was wanted for a parole violation and was arrested. A subsequent search found drugs in the car. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence, but the California Supreme Court held that suppression was unwarranted because a passenger is not seized as a constitutional matter absent additional circumstances. In a unanimous decision, the Court found that like the driver, a passenger in the car is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and may challenge the stop's constitutionality. The defendant was seized because no reasonable person would have believed himself free to terminate the encounter with the police. A traffic stop necessarily curtails a passenger's travel just as much as it halts the driver and the police intrusion does not normally distinguish from driver and passenger. Brendlin v. California, 06–8120.