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Arizona v. Johnson

January 26, 2009

ARIZONA, PETITIONER
v.
LEMON MONTREA JOHNSON



On Writ Of Certiorari To The Court Of Appeals Of Arizona, Division Two Court Below: 217 Ariz. 58, 170 P. 3d 667

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2008

Argued December 9, 2008

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 on unreasonable 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 the person 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 the Crips gang, police officers serving on Arizona's gang task force stopped 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 and clothing 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 of the hearing of the front-seat passenger, about his gang affiliation. Because she suspected that he was armed, she patted him down for safety 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 and that 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 found that, prior to the frisk, the detention had evolved into a consensual conversation 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 Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Pp. 5-9.

(a) Terry established that, in an investigatory stop based on reasonably grounded suspicion of criminal activity, the police must be positioned to act instantly if they have reasonable cause to suspect that the persons temporarily detained are armed and dangerous. 392 U. S., at 24. Because a limited search of outer clothing for weapons serves to protect both the officer and the public, a patdown is constitutional. Id., at 23-24, 27, 30-31. Traffic stops, which "resemble, in duration and atmosphere, the kind of brief detention authorized in Terry," Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U. S. 420, 439, n. 29, are "especially fraught with danger to police officers," Michigan v. Long, 463 U. S. 1032, 1047, who may minimize the risk of harm by exercising " `unquestioned command of the situation,' " Maryland v. Wilson, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Ginsburg

Opinion of the Court

555 U. S. ____ (2009)

This case concerns the authority of police officers to "stop and frisk" a passenger in a motor vehicle temporarily seized 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 first Terry condition -- a lawful investigatory stop -- is met whenever it is lawful for police to detain an automobile and its occupants pending inquiry into a vehicular violation. The police need not have, in addition, cause to believe any occupant of the vehicle is involved in criminal activity. To justify a patdown of the driver or a passenger during a traffic stop, however, just as in the case of a pedestrian reasonably suspected of criminal activity, the police must harbor reasonable suspicion that the person subjected to the frisk is armed and dangerous.

I.

On April 19, 2002, Officer Maria Trevizo and Detectives Machado and Gittings, all members of Arizona's gang task force, were on patrol in Tucson near a neighborhood associated with the Crips gang. At approximately 9 p.m., the officers pulled over an automobile after a license plate check revealed that the vehicle's registration had been suspended 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 to suspect anyone in the vehicle of criminal activity. See App. 29-30.

The three officers left their patrol car and approached the 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-seat passenger, who stayed in the vehicle throughout the stop. See id., at 31. While Machado was getting the driver's ...


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