Officers of a gang task force stopped a car for a suspended registration. While one officer was obtaining information from the driver, the other two officers each spoke with one of the two passengers. The rear-seat passenger looked back and kept his eyes on the officers as they approached. He was wearing clothing consistent with Crips gang membership, and he was from a town known to be home to a Crips gang. He told police that he had served time in prison for burglary and had been out for a year. He had a scanner in his pocket. Scanners are not normally carried in that way except to evade the police. An officer asked him to step from the car to speak with him away from the other passenger in hopes of gaining gang-related intelligence. She frisked the defendant and felt the butt of a gun near the defendant’s waist.
Whether officers can frisk a passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation if that passenger is suspected of being armed and dangerous?
Yes. Officers may frisk a passenger, provided they have a reasonable suspicion that the passenger is armed and dangerous.
During a traffic stop, passengers, like the driver, are seized because a reasonable passenger would not feel free to leave until the traffic stop is concluded. Given concerns for officer safety, officers may order passengers to step from a car during a traffic stop, and they may frisk any passenger reasonably believed to be armed and dangerous. Government inquiries into anything other than the reason for the stop do not convert the stop into an unlawful seizure so long as they do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.
555 U.S. 323, 129 S. Ct. 781 (2009)