Passengers, like drivers, have a constitutional right to challenge the legality of police decisions to stop cars in which they are traveling, says a unanimous Supreme Court ruling reported by the Associated Press. The decision favored Bruce Brendlin, who was convicted of drug possession after a sheriff’s deputy stopped a car in which he was a passenger in California, in 2001. He arguied that the drug evidence should be suppressed because it was found as the result of an illegal stop. The state conceded there was no basis to stop the car.
Justice David Souter said, “A traffic stop necessarily curtails the travel a passenger has chosen just as much as it halts the driver.” The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP had argued that a ruling in the state’s favor would encourage police to conduct arbitrary traffic stops to target passengers, especially minorities, who lack the same rights as drivers. Most state and federal courts already permit challenges by passengers.