An officer stopped a car with a temporary license plate even though there was nothing unusual about the circumstances. During the stop, he recognized the passenger in the car as someone who might be a parole violator. The officer asked the passenger to identify himself. After verifying an arrest warrant of the passenger through dispatch, the officer placed him under arrest. A search incident to his arrest yielded evidence of his capability to produce a controlled substance.
Whether a passenger in a stopped motor vehicle has been “seized?”
Yes. The passengers in a motor vehicle are “seized” just as well as the driver during a routine vehicle stop as they do not feel free to leave the encounter.
The Court held that unintended persons can be subjected to a seizure, as happened in this case. As the Fourth Amendment applies to traffic stops, the Court has consistently held that the government seizes drivers and occupants during these encounters. The Court stated “we have said over and over in dicta that during a traffic stop an officer seizes everyone in the vehicle, not just the driver.” The critical issue is whether a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter. The Court concluded that “any reasonable passenger would have understood the police officers to be exercising control to the point that no one in the car was free to depart without police permission.”
551 U.S. 249, 127 S. Ct. 2400 (2007)