|Maryland v. Wilson (95-1268), 519 U.S. 408 (1997).|
[ Stevens ]
[ Kennedy ]
[ Rehnquist ]
MARYLAND, PETITIONER v. JERRY
on writ of certiorari to the court of special appeals of maryland
I join in the dissent by Justice Stevens and add these few observations.
The distinguishing feature of our criminal justice system is its insistence on principled, accountable decisionmaking in individual cases. If a person is to be seized, a satisfactory explanation for the invasive action ought to be established by an officer who exercises reasoned judgment under all the circumstances of the case. This principle can be accommodated even where officers must make immediate decisions to insure their own safety.
Traffic stops, even for minor violations, can take upwards of 30 minutes. When an officer commands passengers innocent of any violation to leave the vehicle and stand by the side of the road in full view of the public, the seizure is serious, not trivial. As Justice Stevens concludes, the command to exit ought not to be given unless there are objective circumstances making it reasonable for the officer to issue the order. (We do not have before us the separate question whether passengers, who, after all are in the car by choice, can be ordered to remain there for a reasonable time while the police conduct their business.)
The requisite showing for commanding passengers to exit need be no more than the existence of any circumstance justifying the order in the interests of the officer's safety or to facilitate a lawful search or investigation. As we have acknowledged for decades, special latitude is given to the police in effecting searches and seizures involving vehicles and their occupants. See, e.g., Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970); New York v. Class, 475 U.S. 106 (1986); New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981). Just last Term we adhered to a rule permitting vehicle stops if there is some objective indication that a violation has been committed, regardless of the officer's real motives. See Whren v. United States, 517 U. S. ___ (1996). We could discern no other, workable rule. Even so, we insisted on a reasoned explanation for the stop.
The practical effect of our holding in Whren, of course, is to allow the police to stop vehicles in almost countless circumstances. When Whren is coupled with today's holding, the Court puts tens of millions of passengers at risk of arbitrary control by the police. If the command to exit were to become commonplace, the Constitution would be diminished in a most public way. As the standards suggested in dissent are adequate to protect the safety of the police, we ought not to suffer so great a loss.
Since a myriad of circumstances will give a cautious officer reasonable grounds for commanding passengers to leave the vehicle, it might be thought the rule the Court adopts today will be little different in its operation than the rule offered in dissent. It does no disservice to police officers, however, to insist upon exercise of reasoned judgment. Adherence to neutral principles is the very premise of the rule of law the police themselves defend with such courage and dedication.
Most officers, it might be said, will exercise their new power with discretion and restraint; and no doubt this often will be the case. It might also be said that if some jurisdictions use today's ruling to require passengers to exit as a matter of routine in every stop, citizen complaints and political intervention will call for an end to the practice. These arguments, however, would miss the point. Liberty comes not from officials by grace but from the Constitution by right.
For these reasons, and with all respect for the opinion of the Court, I dissent.