Maryland v. Wilson

LOCATION: Wilson's Car

DOCKET NO.: 95-1268
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 519 US 408 (1997)
ARGUED: Dec 11, 1996
DECIDED: Feb 19, 1997

Byron L. Warnkbn - on behalf of the Respondent
Byron L. Warnken - Argued the cause for the respondent
J. Joseph Curran, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Janet Reno - On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae supporting the petitioner

Facts of the case

After a Maryland state trooper stopped the speeding car in which he was riding, a nervous Wilson was ordered to step out. As he did, a quantity of cocaine fell on the ground. When arrested for possession with intent to distribute, Wilson challenged the manner in which the evidence against him was obtained. After the Baltimore County Circuit Court ruled to suppress the evidence against Wilson, Maryland appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals - which affirmed. The Supreme Court granted Maryland certiorari.


Did Maryland's state trooper violate the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure guarantees by ordering Wilson, a mere passenger in the suspect vehicle, to exit the car during a traffic stop?

Media for Maryland v. Wilson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 11, 1996 in Maryland v. Wilson

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 95-1268, Maryland v. Jerry Lee Wilson.

General Curran.

J. Joseph Curran, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Nearly 20 years ago this Court held in the case of Pennsylvania v. Mimms that it was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment for a police officer in making a car stop for a traffic violation to require the driver to exit the car.

The risk to the officer is such in these stops that it was also permitted for the officer to request the driver to get out without any suspicion that the driver would pose a danger to the officer.

The latest figures that we have available demonstrate that the risks are real to police officers in traffic stops.

The latest figures in 1994 show that 5,762 police officers were assaulted in traffic stops.

Indeed, since the decision in Mimms there have been over 200 police officers slain in traffic stops.

Because passengers, like drivers, have--

Antonin Scalia:

Excuse me.

When you say assaulted in traffic stops does that include those who were assaulted by people who got out of the car and physically assaulted them?

J. Joseph Curran, Jr.:

--The... yes.

Yes, Justice--

Antonin Scalia:

Well, that would cut the other way.

I mean, that... they'd be better off to leave them in the car, if that... you know, if that's the assault you're talking about.

J. Joseph Curran, Jr.:

--Well, there were a total of some 52,000 assaults during that given year, '94, of which 5,700 were in traffic stops.

Antonin Scalia:

What I'm suggesting is that the relevant figure is how many of the assaults came while a person was in the car, so that they might have been prevented by making the person get out of the car.

Many of them may have occurred by taking the person out of the car.

J. Joseph Curran, Jr.:

Those are figures are not available--

Antonin Scalia:


J. Joseph Curran, Jr.:

--Your Honor.

John Paul Stevens:

Isn't it true, General Curran... I remember this from the Mimms case... that there's a split of professional opinion on whether it is safer for the officer to order them out of the car or to tell them to stay in the car?

Is there still a respected body of professional law enforcement opinion that says you're safer if you don't ask them to get out of the car?

J. Joseph Curran, Jr.:

Well, Justice Stevens, the typical practice, and I can refer to Maryland, of course, but I believe the briefs will show the typical practice is to control the risk.

That's what the training is, to control the risk, and typically they keep the driver and the passenger in the car.

However, having said that, as the New York v. Class case indicated, there is this discretion the officer can use, and what we're asking, of course, is the automatic rule for that discretion to be utilized in the Wilson case, as this Court granted in the Mimms case.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

General Curran, are you saying that if the officer made the decision to keep the person inside, it would be the officer's call, too?

Suppose a passenger says, I want out.

I'm going to take a car and go home... take a cab and go home.

J. Joseph Curran, Jr.:

The answer is yes, Justice Ginsburg.