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Maryland v. Wilson

A Bright Line Rule?

The argument surrounding this case became an issue of police officer safety verses a constitutional right. In determining whether or not the Maryland v. Wilson case constituted an infringement of Fourth Amendment rights, the Supreme Court studied the case of Pennsylvania v. Mimms (1977). In 1977 Harry Mimms was detained during a routine traffic stop due to an expired license plate. The officer asked Mimms to step out of the car, whereupon the officer noticed a bulge in Mimms's jacket that turned out to be a .38-caliber revolver. The officer arrested Mimms for carrying a concealed deadly weapon. Like Wilson, Mimms also called for the suppression of evidence due to unreasonable seizure because of the officer's order to exit the vehicle. And, like as in Maryland v. Wilson, the court allowed this suppression. The Supreme Court reversed, stating that the rights provided under the Fourth Amendment were subject to a "reasonableness that depend[ed] on a balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security . . . " (Terry v. Ohio 1968). It was noted that Mimms's actions had not been suspicious, but that it was the arresting officer's habit to order all drivers out of their vehicles as a "precautionary measure" to protect the officer's safety.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution proclaims the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." A fundamental question arose as to what situations would allow probable cause for a legal search and seizure.

In each case the officer was required to rapidly assess the situation and act accordingly. This "unfettered discretion" came under fire by many Supreme Court justices. It was referred to as a bright line rule, a " . . . rule or principle that is simple and straightforward; a rule that avoids or ignores ambiguity." It was feared that if the practice of ordering passengers from vehicles became standard police routine that an unnecessary invasion of the rights of innocent citizens was inevitable.

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