1 minute read

Maryland v. Wilson

A Matter Of Safety

Attorney General Janet Reno presented what would be the strongest argument in favor of allowing officers to order passengers from lawfully stopped vehicles. Her primary concern revolved around police safety. In 1994, there were 5,762 officers assaulted in traffic stops. It was noted that there had been a 17-percent drop in fatalities of this nature since the Mimms decision. Reno essentially stated that an officer was at a reduced risk of danger if he could see the passenger.

At the heart of the case was the issue of passengers always being considered dangerous. It was reasoned that the passenger in an automobile would be quite likely to know the driver in some way, and that only under statistically rare circumstances would the passenger be a stranger to the driver. Under this rationale a certain connection between the passenger and the driver could be predicted. The passenger would be aware of what was happening inside the vehicle and would therefore be aware of any illegal activity on the part of the driver. That the vehicle contained more than one occupant was enough to create an increase in risk to the officer. With this in mind it was reasoned that the safety of a police officer would be greatly enhanced if the passenger was ordered to stand outside of the vehicle.

The ramifications this would have on personal liberty were considered. Given the situation, it is obvious that the passengers "are already stopped by virtue of the stop of the vehicle." The only difference produced by the officer's order to exit the car was simply that the passenger would now be outside, instead of inside, the vehicle. By placing the passenger(s) outside of the vehicle, the officer would effectively deny access to any concealed weapons hidden in the vehicle. This action also allowed the officer to more easily determine if the passenger posed a threat as he would now be able to see the passenger completely. It was determined by most of the Supreme Court justices that the amount of safety granted by this action significantly outweighed the minor constitutional infringement placed on the passenger.

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