In 1968, the Supreme Court held that police pat-downs could be conducted when there was a reasonable suspicion that a person on the street was armed and dangerous and involved in criminal activity. This type of stop and limited search became known as the Terry stop-and-frisk. Forty-one years later, the Supreme Court in Arizona v. Johnson decided that a police officer could conduct a Terry stop-and-frisk without any suspicion of criminal activity so long as the officer was dealing with a passenger involved in a routine traffic stop. With its decision in Johnson in 2009, the Supreme Court continued its thirty-year trend of expanding the authority of police officers during routine traffic stops. In a unanimous decision, the Court concluded that it was not a violation of a passenger’s Fourth Amendment rights to be subjected to a pat-down even when the police officer did not suspect that the passenger was involved in criminal activity. This conclusion broadened the authority of police officers beyond the acceptable scope of the Fourth Amendment as determined by Terry. In Johnson, the Court indicated it was relying on precedent to conclude that a passenger could be subjected to a stop-and-frisk. While certain precedent may have supported the Court’s conclusion on the matter, the Court had never directly addressed the issue. As a result, the Court did not conduct the analysis mandated by Terry. The consequence has been another significant reduction in an individual’s right to privacy as afforded by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Of even greater concern are the possible implications this rule may have on future police–citizen interactions in both traffic stops and other situations.
Mark R. Richardson,
The Vulnerable Passenger: An Analysis of the Constitutionality of Terry Frisking Vehicle Passengers Not Suspected of Criminal Activity in Arizona v. Johnson, 129 S. Ct. 781 (2009),
89 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol89/iss3/4