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Maryland v. Wilson - 519 U.S. 408, 117 S. CT. 882 (1997)

Rule:

An officer making a traffic stop may order passengers to get out of the car pending completion of the stop.

Facts:

A Maryland state trooper saw a car driving in excess of the posted speed limit. The trooper observed that (1) the car had no regular license tag, and (2) a torn piece of paper bearing the name of a car rental agency dangled from the rear of the car. The trooper activated his car's lights and sirens and signaled for the car to pull over. In the course of his pursuit of the car for a mile and a half before it finally pulled over, the trooper noticed that two passengers in the car turned to look at him several times, ducked below sight level, and then reappeared. After the car pulled over and the trooper approached the car on foot, the driver alighted and met the trooper halfway. The driver produced a valid driver's license, and the trooper instructed the driver to return to the car and retrieve the car rental documents. During his encounter with the driver, the trooper had noticed that the car's front-seat passenger was sweating and appeared extremely nervous. While the driver was sitting in the driver's seat looking for the rental documents, the trooper ordered the front-seat passenger out of the car. When the passenger did so, a quantity of crack cocaine fell to the ground. The passenger was then arrested and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Before trial in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland, the accused moved to suppress the evidence on the ground that the trooper's ordering him out of the car constituted an unreasonable seizure. The circuit court granted the accused's motion to suppress. On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed, expressing the view that the rule that a police officer may as a matter of course order the driver of a lawfully stopped car to exit the vehicle did not apply to passengers. The Court of Appeals of Maryland denied certiorari. 

Issue:

May a police officer order a passenger form a lawfully stopped car to exit the vehicle?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States held that consistent with the Fourth Amendment, a police officer making a traffic stop may order passengers to get out of the car pending completion of the stop after applying a test that balanced the public interest and the individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers. Thus, it reversed the lower court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion.

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