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

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1996

Syllabus

MARYLAND v. WILSON

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS OF MARYLAND

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

Mter 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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passengers. But as a practical matter, passengers are already stopped by virtue of the stop of the vehicle, so that the additional intrusion upon them is minimal. Pp.411-415.

106 Md. App. 24, 664 A. 2d 1, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'CONNOR, SCALIA, SOUTER, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which KENNEDY, J., joined, post, p. 415. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 422.

J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General of Maryland, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Gary E. Bair, Mary Ellen Barbera, and Kathryn Grill Graeff, Assistant Attorneys General.

Byron L. Warnken, by appointment of the Court, 519 U. S. 804 (1996), argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.

Attorney General Reno argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. On the brief were Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, David C. Frederick, and Nina Goodman. *

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Ohio et al. by Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General of Ohio, Jeffrey S. Sutton, State Solicitor, and Simon B. Karas and Stuart A. Cole, Assistant Attorneys General, joined by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Grant Woods of Arizona, Winston Bryant of Arkansas, Daniel E. Lungren of California, Gale A. Norton of Colorado, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, M. Jane Brady of Delaware, Robert Butterworth of Florida, James E. Ryan of Illinois, Tom Miller of Iowa, Carla J. Stovall of Kansas, A. B. Chandler III of Kentucky, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, Scott Harshbarger of Massachusetts, Frank J. Kelley of Michigan, Hubert Humphrey III of Minnesota, Mike Moore of Mississippi, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Jeffrey R. Howard of New Hampshire, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Dennis C. Vacco of New York, Michael F. Easley of North Carolina, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, W A. Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma, Theodore Kulongoski of Oregon, Thomas Corbett, Jr., of Pennsylvania, Jeffrey B. Pine of Rhode Island, Charles Condon of South Carolina, Mark W Barnett of South Dakota,


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