Brendlin v. California
551 U.S. 249, 127 S.Ct. 2400, 168 L. Ed.2d 132 (2007)

  • Brendlin was a passenger in a car. The police stopped the car for a traffic violation.
    • The police later conceded that the stop was illegal due to lack of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
  • The policeman asked Brendlin his name, and determined that there was an arrest warrant for him. The policeman arrested Brendlin and then, in a search incident to lawful arrest, he searched Brendlin and the car and found drugs.
  • Brendlin made a motion to suppress the evidence of the drugs because the police had conceded that the car had been stopped illegally, which is a violation of the 4th Amendment.
  • The Trial Court denied the motion and convicted Brendlin of drug possession. He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. The prosecution appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Brendlin had been seized by the traffic stop and that constituted an unreasonable search and seizure under the 4th Amendment.
  • The California Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and denied the motion to suppress. Brendlin appealed.
    • The California Supreme Court found that because a passenger is not seized as a Constitutional matter absent additional circumstances that would indicate to a reasonable person that he was the subject of the officer’s investigation or show of authority.
    • Basically, the Court said that the passenger is free to go, he isn’t stopped in the same way the driver is stopped, so therefore there was no seizure.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and granted the motion to suppress.
    • The US Supreme Court found that when the police make a traffic stop, a passenger in the car, like the driver, is seized for 4th Amendment purposes and so may challenge the stop’s constitutionality.
    • The Court found that Brendlin was seized because no reasonable person in his position when the car was stopped would have believed himself free to “terminate the encounter” between the police and himself.