An officer observed a speeding passenger car with no regular license tag and a torn piece of paper bearing the name of a rental car company dangling from the rear of the car. He activated his lights and, after a mile and half, the suspect’s car pulled over. During the traffic stop, the officer noticed that the defendant, a passenger in the vehicle, appeared to be nervous. The officer ordered the defendant out of the vehicle. When he exited the vehicle, a quantity of crack cocaine fell to the ground. The officer placed the defendant under arrest.
Whether the officer’s action of ordering the passenger out of the vehicle was reasonable?
Yes. The Supreme Court extended the rule expressed in Pennsylvania v. Mimms to include passengers in lawfully stopped vehicles.
The touchstone of almost all Fourth Amendment analysis is whether the government’s intrusion on privacy was reasonable. Reasonableness depends on striking a balance between the public’s interest in conducting the search or seizure and the individual’s interest in preserved privacy. Here, the public has a great interest in preserving the safety of the officer. The officer must maintain an awareness of the driver and any passengers, any of whom can pose a threat, during the encounter. The passenger is only minimally intruded upon. The only change in their circumstance is that they will be outside the vehicle, where they cannot access concealed weapons found in the vehicle. Therefore, it is reasonable for officers to order passengers of lawfully stopped vehicles out of the conveyance.