Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 6 (1997)

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Cite as: 519 U. S. 408 (1997)

Opinion of the Court

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 killed during traffic pursuits and stops. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports: Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 71, 33 (1994). In the case of passengers, the danger of the officer's standing in the path of oncoming traffic would not be present except in the case of a passenger in the left rear seat, but the fact that there is more than one occupant of the vehicle increases the possible sources of harm to the officer.2

On the personal liberty side of the balance, the case for the passengers is in one sense stronger than that for the driver. There is probable cause to believe that the driver has committed a minor vehicular offense, but there is no such reason to stop or detain the passengers. But as a practical

1 Respondent argues that, because we have generally eschewed bright-line rules in the Fourth Amendment context, see, e. g., Ohio v. Robinette, ante, p. 33, we should not here conclude that passengers may constitutionally be ordered out of lawfully stopped vehicles. But, that we typically avoid per se rules concerning searches and seizures does not mean that we have always done so; Mimms itself drew a bright line, and we believe the principles that underlay that decision apply to passengers as well.

2 Justice Stevens' dissenting opinion points out, post, at 416, that these statistics are not further broken down as to assaults by passengers and assaults by drivers. It is, indeed, regrettable that the empirical data on a subject such as this are sparse, but we need not ignore the data which do exist simply because further refinement would be even more helpful. Justice Stevens agrees that there is "a strong public interest in minimizing" the number of assaults on law officers, ibid., and we believe that our holding today is more likely to accomplish that result than would be the case if his views were to prevail.


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