ARIZONA v. JOHNSON
CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF ARIZONA
555 US 323
No. 07–1122. Argued December 9, 2008—Decided January 26, 2009
(Slip Opinion) OCTOBER TERM, 2008
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as isbeing done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has beenprepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1, this Court held that a “stop and frisk”may be conducted without violating the Fourth Amendment’s ban onunreasonable searches and seizures if two conditions are met. First, the investigatory stop (temporary detention) must be lawful, a requirement met in an on-the-street encounter when a police officer reasonably suspects that the person apprehended is committing or has committed a crime. Second, to proceed from a stop to a frisk(patdown for weapons), the officer must reasonably suspect that theperson stopped is armed and dangerous. For the duration of a traffic stop, the Court recently confirmed, a police officer effectively seizes “everyone in the vehicle,” the driver and all passengers. Brendlin v. California, 551 U. S. 249, 255. While patrolling near a Tucson neighborhood associated with theCrips gang, police officers serving on Arizona’s gang task forcestopped an automobile for a vehicular infraction warranting a citation. At the time of the stop, the officers had no reason to suspect the car’s occupants of criminal activity. Officer Trevizo attended to respondent Johnson, the back-seat passenger, whose behavior andclothing caused Trevizo to question him. After learning that Johnson was from a town with a Crips gang and had been in prison, Trevizo asked him get out of the car in order to question him further, out ofthe hearing of the front-seat passenger, about his gang affiliation.Because she suspected that he was armed, she patted him down forsafety when he exited the car. During the patdown, she felt the butt of a gun. At that point, Johnson began to struggle, and Trevizo handcuffed him. Johnson was charged with, inter alia, possession of a weapon by a prohibited possessor. The trial court denied his motion to suppress the evidence, concluding that the stop was lawful andthat Trevizo had cause to suspect Johnson was armed and dangerous.
Johnson was convicted. The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed. While recognizing that Johnson was lawfully seized, the court foundthat, prior to the frisk, the detention had evolved into a consensualconversation about his gang affiliation. Trevizo, the court therefore concluded, had no right to pat Johnson down even if she had reason to suspect he was armed and dangerous. The Arizona Supreme Court denied review.
Held: Officer Trevizo’s patdown of Johnson did not violate the FourthAmendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Pp. 5–9.
217 Ariz. 58, 170 P. 3d 667, reversed and remanded.
GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Opinion of the Court
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in thepreliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested tonotify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in orderthat corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
ARIZONA, PETITIONER v. LEMON MONTREA
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF
ARIZONA, DIVISION TWO
[January 26, 2009]
JUSTICE GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case concerns the authority of police officers to“stop and frisk” a passenger in a motor vehicle temporarilyseized upon police detection of a traffic infraction. In a pathmarking decision, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1 (1968), the Court considered whether an investigatory stop (temporary detention) and frisk (patdown for weapons) may be conducted without violating the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court upheld “stop and frisk” as constitutionally permissible if two conditions are met. First, the investigatory stop must be lawful. That requirement is met in an on-the-street encounter, Terry determined, when the police officer reasonably suspects that the person apprehended is committing or has committed a criminal offense. Second, to proceed from a stop to a frisk, the police officer must reasonably suspect that the person stopped is armed and dangerous.
For the duration of a traffic stop, we recently confirmed,a police officer effectively seizes “everyone in the vehicle,”the driver and all passengers. Brendlin v. California, 551 U. S. 249, 255 (2007). Accordingly, we hold that, in a traffic-stop setting, the firstTerry condition—a lawful investigatory stop—is met whenever it is lawful for policeto detain an automobile and its occupants pending inquiry into a vehicular violation. The police need not have, inaddition, cause to believe any occupant of the vehicle isinvolved in criminal activity. To justify a patdown of thedriver or a passenger during a traffic stop, however, just as in the case of a pedestrian reasonably suspected ofcriminal activity, the police must harbor reasonable suspicion that the person subjected to the frisk is armed anddangerous.
I On April 19, 2002, Officer Maria Trevizo and DetectivesMachado and Gittings, all members of Arizona’s gang taskforce, were on patrol in Tucson near a neighborhood associated with the Crips gang. At approximately 9 p.m., theofficers pulled over an automobile after a license platecheck revealed that the vehicle’s registration had beensuspended for an insurance-related violation. Under Arizona law, the violation for which the vehicle was stopped constituted a civil infraction warranting a citation. At the time of the stop, the vehicle had three occupants—the driver, a front-seat passenger, and a passenger in the back seat, Lemon Montrea Johnson, the respondent here. In making the stop the officers had no reason tosuspect anyone in the vehicle of criminal activity. See App. 29–30.The three officers left their patrol car and approachedthe stopped vehicle. Machado instructed all of the occupants to keep their hands visible. Id., at 14. He asked whether there were any weapons in the vehicle; all responded no. Id., at 15. Machado then directed the driver to get out of the car. Gittings dealt with the front-seatpassenger, who stayed in the vehicle throughout the stop.
Opinion of the Court
See id., at 31. While Machado was getting the driver’s license and information about the vehicle’s registration and insurance, see id., at 42–43, Trevizo attended to Johnson.
Trevizo noticed that, as the police approached, Johnson looked back and kept his eyes on the officers. Id., at 12. When she drew near, she observed that Johnson was wearing clothing, including a blue bandana, that she considered consistent with Crips membership. Id., at 17. She also noticed a scanner in Johnson’s jacket pocket, which “struck [her] as highly unusual and cause [for] concern,” because “most people” would not carry around ascanner that way “unless they’re going to be involved in some kind of criminal activity or [are] going to try to evade the police by listening to the scanner.” Id., at 16. In response to Trevizo’s questions, Johnson provided hisname and date of birth but said he had no identification with him. He volunteered that he was from Eloy, Arizona, a place Trevizo knew was home to a Crips gang. Johnson further told Trevizo that he had served time in prison forburglary and had been out for about a year. 217 Ariz. 58, 60, 170 P. 3d 667, 669 (App. 2007).
Trevizo wanted to question Johnson away from thefront-seat passenger to gain “intelligence about the gang [Johnson] might be in.” App. 19. For that reason, she asked him to get out of the car. Ibid. Johnson complied. Based on Trevizo’s observations and Johnson’s answers to her questions while he was still seated in the car, Trevizosuspected that “he might have a weapon on him.” Id., at
20. When he exited the vehicle, she therefore “patted him down for officer safety.” Ibid. During the patdown, Trevizo felt the butt of a gun near Johnson’s waist. 217 Ariz., at 60, 170 P. 3d, at 669. At that point Johnson began to struggle, and Trevizo placed him in handcuffs. Ibid.
Johnson was charged in state court with, inter alia, possession of a weapon by a prohibited possessor. He moved to suppress the evidence as the fruit of an unlawful search. The trial court denied the motion, concluding thatthe stop was lawful and that Trevizo had cause to suspect Johnson was armed and dangerous. See App. 74–78. A jury convicted Johnson of the gun-possession charge. See 217 Ariz., at 60–61, 170 P. 3d, at 669–670.
A divided panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed Johnson’s conviction. Id., at 59, 170 P. 3d, at 668. Recognizing that “Johnson was [lawfully] seized when theofficers stopped the car,” id., at 62, 170 P. 3d, at 671, the court nevertheless concluded that prior to the frisk the detention had “evolved into a separate, consensual encounter stemming from an unrelated investigation by Trevizo of Johnson’s possible gang affiliation,” id., at 64, 170 P. 3d, at 673. Absent “reason to believe Johnson was involved in criminal activity,” the Arizona appeals court held, Trevizo “had no right to pat him down for weapons, even if she had reason to suspect he was armed and dangerous.” Ibid.
Judge Espinosa dissented. He found it “highly unrealistic to conclude that merely because [Trevizo] was courteous and Johnson cooperative, the ongoing and virtually simultaneous chain of events [had] somehow ‘evolved into a consensual encounter’ in the few short moments involved.” Id., at 66, 170 P. 3d, at 675. Throughout theepisode, he stressed, Johnson remained “seized as part of
[a] valid traffic stop.” Ibid. Further, he maintained, Trevizo “had a reasonable basis to consider [Johnson] dangerous,” id., at 67, 170 P. 3d, at 676, and could therefore ensure her own safety and that of others at the scene by patting down Johnson for weapons.
The Arizona Supreme Court denied review. No. CR–07– 0290–PR, 2007 Ariz. LEXIS 154 (Nov. 29, 2007). We granted certiorari, 554 U. S. ___ (2008), and now reverse the judgment of the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Opinion of the Court
We begin our consideration of the constitutionality ofOfficer Trevizo’s patdown of Johnson by looking back tothe Court’s leading decision in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S.1 (1968). Terry involved a stop for interrogation of men whose conduct had attracted the attention of a patrolling police officer. The officer’s observation led him reasonably to suspect that the men were casing a jewelry shop in preparation for a robbery. He conducted a patdown, whichdisclosed weapons concealed in the men’s overcoat pockets.This Court upheld the lower courts’ determinations thatthe interrogation was warranted and the patdown, permissible. See id., at 8.
Terry established the legitimacy of an investigatory stop“in situations where [the police] may lack probable cause for an arrest.” Id., at 24. When the stop is justified bysuspicion (reasonably grounded, but short of probable cause) that criminal activity is afoot, the Court explained,the police officer must be positioned to act instantly on reasonable suspicion that the persons temporarily detained are armed and dangerous. Ibid. Recognizing thata limited search of outer clothing for weapons serves toprotect both the officer and the public, the Court held the patdown reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Id., at 23–24, 27, 30–31.
“[M]ost traffic stops,” this Court has observed, “resemble, in duration and atmosphere, the kind of brief detention authorized in Terry.” Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U. S. 420, 439, n. 29 (1984). Furthermore, the Court has recognized that traffic stops are “especially fraught with dangerto police officers.” Michigan v. Long, 463 U. S. 1032, 1047 (1983). “‘The risk of harm to both the police and the occupants [of a stopped vehicle] is minimized,’” we havestressed, “‘if the officers routinely exercise unquestioned command of the situation.’” Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U. S.
408, 414 (1997) (quoting Michigan v. Summers, 452 U. S. 692, 702–703 (1981)); see Brendlin, 551 U. S., at 258. Three decisions cumulatively portray Terry’s application in a traffic-stop setting: Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U. S. 106 (1977) (per curiam); Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U. S. 408 (1997); and Brendlin v. California, 551 U. S. 249 (2007).
In Mimms, the Court held that “once a motor vehicle has been lawfully detained for a traffic violation, the policeofficers may order the driver to get out of the vehiclewithout violating the Fourth Amendment’s proscription of unreasonable searches and seizures.” 434 U. S., at 111,
Wilson held that the Mimms rule applied to passengers as well as to drivers. Specifically, the Court instructed that “an officer making a traffic stop may order passengersto get out of the car pending completion of the stop.” 519
U. S., at 415. “[T]he same weighty interest in officer safety,” the Court observed, “is present regardless of whether the occupant of the stopped car is a driver orpassenger.” Id., at 413.
It is true, the Court acknowledged, that in a lawfultraffic stop, “[t]here is probable cause to believe that thedriver has committed a minor vehicular offense,” but “there is no such reason to stop or detain the passengers.” Ibid. On the other hand, the Court emphasized, the riskof a violent encounter in a traffic-stop setting “stems not from the ordinary reaction of a motorist stopped for a speeding violation, but from the fact that evidence of a more serious crime might be uncovered during the stop.” Id., at 414. “[T]he motivation of a passenger to employviolence to prevent apprehension of such a crime,” theCourt stated, “is every bit as great as that of the driver.” Ibid. Moreover, the Court noted, “as a practical matter,the passengers are already stopped by virtue of the stop ofthe vehicle,” id., at 413–414, so “the additional intrusion on the passenger is minimal,” id., at 415.
Completing the picture, Brendlin held that a passengeris seized, just as the driver is, “from the moment [a car stopped by the police comes] to a halt on the side of the road.” 551 U. S., at 263. A passenger therefore has standing to challenge a stop’s constitutionality. Id., at 256–259.
After Wilson, but before Brendlin, the Court had stated, in dictum, that officers who conduct “routine traffic stop[s]” may “perform a ‘patdown’ of a driver and any passengers upon reasonable suspicion that they may bearmed and dangerous.” Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U. S. 113, 117–118 (1998). That forecast, we now confirm, accurately captures the combined thrust of the Court’s decisions in Mimms, Wilson, and Brendlin.
B The Arizona Court of Appeals recognized that, initially, Johnson was lawfully detained incident to the legitimatestop of the vehicle in which he was a passenger. See 217 Ariz., at 64, 170 P. 3d, at 673. But, that court concluded, once Officer Trevizo undertook to question Johnson on a matter unrelated to the traffic stop, i.e., Johnson’s gangaffiliation, patdown authority ceased to exist, absent reasonable suspicion that Johnson had engaged, or was about to engage, in criminal activity. See id., at 65, 170
P. 3d, at 674. In support of the Arizona court’s portrayal of Trevizo’s interrogation of Johnson as “consensual,” Johnson emphasizes Trevizo’s testimony at the suppression hearing. Responding to the prosecutor’s questions, Trevizo affirmed her belief that Johnson could have “refused to get out of the car” and “to turn around for the patdown.” App. 41.
It is not clear why the prosecutor, in opposing the suppression motion, sought to portray the episode as consensual. Cf. Florida v. Bostick, 501 U. S. 429 (1991) (holding that police officers’ search of a bus passenger’s luggage can be based on consent). In any event, Trevizo also testified that she never advised Johnson he did not have to answer her questions or otherwise cooperate with her. See App.
45. And during cross-examination, Trevizo did not disagree when defense counsel asked “in fact you weren’t seeking [Johnson’s] permission . . . ?” Id., at 36. As the dissenting judge observed, “consensual” is an “unrealistic” characterization of the Trevizo-Johnson interaction. “[T]he encounter . . . took place within minutes of thestop”; the patdown followed “within mere moments” of Johnson’s exit from the vehicle; beyond genuine debate, the point at which Johnson could have felt free to leavehad not yet occurred. See 217 Ariz., at 66, 170 P. 3d, at
A lawful roadside stop begins when a vehicle is pulledover for investigation of a traffic violation. The temporary seizure of driver and passengers ordinarily continues, and remains reasonable, for the duration of the stop. Normally, the stop ends when the police have no further needto control the scene, and inform the driver and passengersthey are free to leave. See Brendlin, 551 U. S., at 258. An officer’s inquiries into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop, this Court has made plain, do not
—————— 1The Court of Appeals majority did not assert that Johnson reasonably could have felt free to leave. Instead, the court said “a reasonable person in Johnson’s position would have felt free to remain in the vehicle.” 217 Ariz. 58, 64, 170 P. 3d 667, 673 (2007). That position, however, appears at odds with our decision in Maryland v. Wilson, 519
U. S. 408 (1997). See supra, at 6–7.
convert the encounter into something other than a lawful seizure, so long as those inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop. See Muehler v. Mena, 544
In sum, as stated in Brendlin, a traffic stop of a carcommunicates to a reasonable passenger that he or she isnot free to terminate the encounter with the police andmove about at will. See 551 U. S., at 257. Nothing occurred in this case that would have conveyed to Johnson that, prior to the frisk, the traffic stop had ended or thathe was otherwise free “to depart without police permission.” Ibid. Officer Trevizo surely was not constitutionally required to give Johnson an opportunity to depart the scene after he exited the vehicle without first ensuringthat, in so doing, she was not permitting a dangerousperson to get behind her.2
* * * For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Arizona Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded forfurther proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
—————— 2The Arizona Court of Appeals assumed, “without deciding, thatTrevizo had reasonable suspicion that Johnson was armed and dangerous.” 217 Ariz., at 64, 170 P. 3d, at 673. We do not foreclose the appeals court’s consideration of that issue on remand.