Brendlin v. California Case Brief

Facts of the Case

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, toseizure.




“Yes. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice David Souter, the Court held that when a vehicle is stopped at a traffic stop, the passenger as well as the driver is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The justices said, “We resolve this question by asking whether a reasonable person in Brendlin’s position when the car stopped would have believed himself free to ‘terminate the encounter’ between the police and himself.” The Court held that Brendlin would have reasonably believed himself to be intentionally detained and subject to the authority of the police. Thus, he was justified in asserting his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure. The Court noted that its ruling would not extend to more incidental restrictions on freedom of movement, such as when motorists are forced to slow down or stop because other vehicles are being detained. To accept the state’s arguments, however, would be to “invite police officers to stop cars with passengers regardless of probable cause or reasonable suspicion of anything illegal.””

Case Information

Citation: 551 US 249 (2007)
Granted: Jan 19, 2007
Argued: Apr 23, 2007
Decided: Jun 18, 2007
Case Brief: 2007