Officer Safety Trumps Passenger Privacy

This article describes how the Supreme Court of the United States, in a unanimous 2009 opinion, ruled that the Fourth Amendment authorizes officers to frisk vehicle occupants during a traffic stop if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is believed to be armed and dangerous. Situations reasonably suggesting the possible presence of weapons by any or all seized persons during legitimate traffic stops now affirmatively allow an immediate show of authority to neutralize the potential danger. The decision resulted from the court’s balancing interests under the Reasonableness Clause of the Fourth Amendment. The nature and extent of the passenger’s privacy interest in bodily integrity was weighed against the government’s interest in officer safety. Officer safety trumped passenger privacy. Although there are those who would claim that the current decision is but another step toward dissipating the Bill of Rights provision as it relates to matters involving the automobile, the decision is more of an evolution than an outright abandonment (Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 1971). The Fourth Amendment mandates that all searches and seizure be reasonable. This article discusses the evolution of Fourth Amendment law as it relates to frisks involving vehicles and its occupants. This research traces the evolution of these frisks from its earliest roots under Carroll v. United States (1925), to its inception under Terry v. Ohio (1968) and finally, to the most recent decision, Arizona v. Johnson (2009). Society’s privacy interests and police officers’ safety interests are explored from a practical and workable context such that an appropriate balance of conduct may result when conducting legitimate traffic encounters.

  • Authors:
    • Ross, Darrell L
    • Meyers, Jill Jolene
  • Publication Date: 2009


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Print
  • Features: References;
  • Pagination: pp 468-481
  • Serial:

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01144242
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Nov 5 2009 2:04PM