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Maryland v. Wilson

Significance

The ruling determined that a police officer has the right to order the passenger of a vehicle out of the car during a traffic stop. Previously, this law had only extended to the driver of the vehicle, due to probable cause when the driver had committed a traffic violation. The determination to extend this law to cover the passenger as well was primarily based on the added safety risk placed on an officer by passengers of motor vehicles. Justices Stevens and Kennedy dissented, stating that aspects of Maryland v. Wilson had not been properly preserved and were therefore not relevant to the Supreme Court. They also stated that the extension of this law to cover passengers of vehicles infringed on Fourth Amendment issues due to lack of evidence that the passenger presented any risk to the officer.

A Maryland state trooper witnessed a car, bearing a torn shred of paper with the name of a car rental agency written on it instead of a license tag, driving over the posted speed limit. After a brief pursuit of one and a half miles, the car finally pulled over. Aside from the driver, two passengers could be seen in the car, each looking repeatedly back at the trooper, then ducking below sight level, only to glance back up moments later. As the trooper approached the car, the driver climbed out and met the trooper halfway, carrying a valid driver's license. The trooper instructed the driver to return to the car and gather the car's rental papers. As the driver sat behind the wheel, looking for the documents, the trooper noticed that the passenger occupying the front seat appeared quite nervous. He asked this passenger to exit the vehicle. As the passenger exited the car, a quantity of crack cocaine fell to the ground. The trooper immediately arrested the passenger, Jerry Lee Wilson, under the charge of "possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute."

The case was brought to trial in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland. Before the trial began Wilson moved to suppress the evidence, stating that the trooper's order amounted to an unjustifiable seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The circuit court granted the motion to suppress. On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland declared that a police officer may order the driver of a lawfully stopped car to exit the vehicle (as decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in Pennsylvania v. Mimms), but this procedure did not extend to the passengers. On certiorari this case was referred to the Supreme Court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentMaryland v. Wilson - Significance, A Bright Line Rule?, A Matter Of Safety, Differing Opinions, Impact, Further Readings