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Law School Case Brief

Brendlin v. California - 551 U.S. 249, 127 S. Ct. 2400 (2007)


A person is seized by the police and thus entitled to challenge the government's action under the Fourth Amendment when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, terminates or restrains his freedom of movement through means intentionally applied. Thus, an unintended person may be the object of the detention, so long as the detention is willful and not merely the consequence of an unknowing act. A police officer may make a seizure by a show of authority and without the use of physical force, but there is no seizure without actual submission; otherwise, there is at most an attempted seizure, so far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned.


After officers stopped a car to check its registration without reason to believe it was being operated unlawfully, one of them recognized defendant, a passenger in the car. Upon verifying that defendant was a parole violator, the officers formally arrested him and searched him, the driver, and the car, finding, among other things, methamphetamine paraphernalia. Defendant was charged with various methamphetamine offenses, and he moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the searches of his person and the car as fruits of an unconstitutional seizure. The State conceded that the police had no adequate justification to pull the car over. The Supreme Court of California held suppression was unwarranted as defendant was a passenger. Certiorari was granted to decide whether a traffic stop subjected a passenger, as well as the driver, to Fourth Amendment seizure.


Can a traffic stop subject the passenger, as well as the driver, to Fourth Amendment seizure?




The judgment of the Supreme Court of California was vacated, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. The United States Supreme Court stated that the relevant question was to ask whether a reasonable person in defendant's position after the car was stopped would have believed himself free to terminate the encounter between the police and himself. The Court thought that in such circumstances any reasonable passenger would have understood the police officers to be exercising control to the point that no one in the car, driver or passenger, was free to depart without police permission.

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