Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997)

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certiorari to the court of special appeals of maryland

No. 95-1268. Argued December 11, 1996—Decided February 19, 1997

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, 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 (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 (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, 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. 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, 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, but there is no such reason to stop or detain

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