Legal Reference

Arizona v. Johnson, 07-1122 - Another Terry v. Ohio

This pretty much means that if a cop thinks your a criminal, or that you might be a criminal the cop can search you. It's even worse then Terry v. Ohio!

Arizona v. Johnson, 07-1122.


US Supreme Court says passenger can be frisked

WASHINGTON (AP) The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police officers have leeway to frisk a passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation even if nothing indicates the passenger has committed a crime or is about to do so.

The court on Monday unanimously overruled an Arizona appeals court that threw out evidence found during such an encounter.

The case involved a 2002 pat-down search of an Eloy, Ariz., man by an Oro Valley police officer, who found a gun and marijuana.

The justices accepted Arizona's argument that traffic stops are inherently dangerous for police and that pat-downs are permissible when an officer has a reasonable suspicion that the passenger may be armed and dangerous.

The pat-down is allowed if the police "harbor reasonable suspicion that a person subjected to the frisk is armed, and therefore dangerous to the safety of the police and public," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

The case is Arizona v. Johnson, 07-1122.


Ruling redefines police pat-downs

U.S. Supreme Court reverses '07 decision in Arizona case

Michael Kiefer - Jan. 27, 2009 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled in an Arizona case that redefines when police officers can pat down people they suspect are armed and dangerous.

The high-court ruling reverses a 2007 decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals that a Tucson-area police officer went too far when she frisked the passenger of a car during a routine traffic stop - even though she found a prohibited weapon.

The Arizona Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and the Arizona Attorney General's Office took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue was the passenger's Fourth Amendment protection from unlawful search and seizure. And attorneys on both sides fretted that the court's decision would either give too much free rein to law-enforcement officers or imperil their safety by limiting when they could frisk.

In the Tucson case, the officer had asked the passenger to get out of the car to talk to her, though he was not the reason the car had been pulled over. Was she still within her right to frisk him?

The court said yes.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the officer "surely was not constitutionally required to give (him) an opportunity to depart the scene after he exited the vehicle without first ensuring that, in doing so, she was not permitting a dangerous person to get behind her."

Attorney General Terry Goddard called the unanimous ruling "a very important refinement to the search-and-seizure rules: The officer comes first. It's not an open invitation to stop and search people anywhere you see them," Goddard said.

According to court records, on April 19, 2002, a gang task force pulled over a car in a known gang neighborhood because the car's registration was suspended. As one officer questioned the driver and another questioned the front-seat passenger, Oro Valley Officer Maria Trevizo noticed that the backseat passenger, Lemon Montrea Johnson of Eloy, was wearing gang colors and had a police scanner. Johnson told Trevizo that he had recently gotten out of prison.

Trevizo asked Johnson to get out of the car because she wanted to talk to him away from the other occupants. When she patted him down, she felt the gun, and when he began to struggle, she handcuffed him. He was charged and convicted of being an illegal possessor of a weapon.

But the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that since Trevizo was taking Johnson away from the car, it had become a consensual conversation separate from the traffic stop, and therefore, there was no longer reasonable cause to frisk Johnson.

Ginsburg cited a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision on traffic-stop searches when she ruled that all the passengers are detained until the officers allow them to leave. Johnson was not free to leave, she ruled, and Trevizo had a right to frisk him to guarantee her own safety.

"I don't know how much of a landmark case this is," said Phoenix defense attorney David Derickson, who is a former Superior Court judge. "Trevizo reasonably thought the man was armed and dangerous, so the frisk is OK. That's just common sense."


Supreme Court upholds traffic stop search

Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services January 26, 2009 - 11:38AM

Calling the intrusion "minimal," the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the ability of police to pat down the passenger of a vehicle stopped for unrelated reasons - and, by extension, the ability to charge that person with illegal possession of a gun.

In a unanimous decision involving a Tucson arrest, the justices acknowledged that, in a lawful traffic stop, there is reason to believe the driver has committed an offense. Similarly, they said, there generally is no reason to stop or detain the passengers.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said officers may act if there is a "reasonable suspicion" they may be armed and dangerous.

She said there is a possibility of violence if those in the vehicle - including passengers - are concerned that the stop will lead to uncovering evidence of something more serious than the traffic violation. And Ginsburg said since the vehicle is already stopped, along with its passengers, the additional intrusion on the passenger is minimal.

Monday's ruling, however, does not end the matter. The justices said that Edith Cunningham, a Pima County public defender handling the case for Lemon M. Johnson, will still get a chance to prove that Oro Valley police officer Maria Trevizo lacked that "reasonable suspicion" necessary to search him in the first place.

According to court records, Trevizo was on patrol in 2002 with two other officers in a midtown Tucson neighborhood.

Trevizo testified that the area is associated with the Crips gang and that gang members usually wear blue. She also said that "gang members will often, in general, possess firearms."

They stopped a vehicle because a check of the license plate showed a violation of Arizona's mandatory auto insurance laws.

There was no specific reason to suspect criminal activity.

The vehicle had a driver, someone in the passenger seat and Johnson in the back.

Trevizo said she noticed Johnson was wearing clothing, including a blue bandanna, she considered consistent with Crips membership. He also had a police scanner in his jacket pocket, something she said was unusual unless someone were going to commit a crime or evade police.

When she questioned Johnson he provided his name and date of birth and that he lived in Eloy, which Trevizo said she knew was home of a Crips gang. Johnson also told the officer he had been in prison for burglary and been out for about a year.

Saying she wanted to get intelligence about the gang, she asked him to get out of the vehicle so she could question him separately. When he got out she patted him down and found a gun, resulting in his arrest.

The state Court of Appeals said the pat-down - and subsequent arrest - were illegal because Trevizo admitted she asked him to get out of the car not for public safety purposes but to question him about gang activity. That decision was upheld without comment by the state Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court thought otherwise. Ginsburg said the fact remains that the vehicle was lawfully stopped. And that stop, she said, included all the occupants.

"The temporary seizure of driver and passengers ordinarily continues, and remains reasonable, for the duration of the stop," she wrote. Ginsburg said that stop normally ends when officers have no need to control the scene and tell the driver and passengers they are free to leave.

But she said as long as the vehicle is lawfully stopped, police can question all the occupants about other matters.

"An officer's inquiries into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop ... do not convert the encounter into something other than a lawful seizure, so long as those inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop."

Cunningham said the high court ruling was "narrow," dealing only with what police can do when they have reasonable cause to search someone. She said nothing in the ruling undermines her contention that, despite the clothing and the scanner, Trevizo never had cause to suspect her client was a danger or doing anything wrong.