Commentary: Stopping All Passengers

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, July 6, 2007

If the police stopped the car in which you were a passenger, would you feel that you could open the door, get out and walk away? No way.

Yet the California Supreme Court had the warped idea that when police stop a car, only the driver is the target and a passenger would, quote: "feel free to depart or otherwise to conduct his or her affairs as though the police were not present," unquote. Yeah, right.

Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, overturned that California decision in favor of common sense. When police stop a car, they stop everyone in the car, not just the driver. This ruling has two important results. One benefits the police and public safety: When a police officer stops a car, everyone in the car should be presumed to be detained. The second result benefits citizens: If a passenger is detained, he or she has a constitutional right, just as the driver does, to challenge whether police had reasonable suspicion to make the stop.

Police can’t just go around making random stops to find illegal activity. In this country, police have to have a reason to stop you, no matter which side of the car you’re sitting on.


Pia Lopez writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.