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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Allows Frisk of Passenger Believed to be Carrying Gun

Posted Jan 26, 2009 11:48 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A police officer who has a reasonable suspicion that a car passenger is armed and dangerous may conduct a pat-down search without violating the Fourth Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said police officers involved in lawful traffic stops need not have a belief that the passenger is involved in criminal activity before conducting a search, the Associated Press reports. The frisk is permissible if the police "harbor reasonable suspicion that a person subjected to the frisk is armed, and therefore dangerous to the safety of the police and public," according to the opinion (PDF).

At oral arguments, Justice David H. Souter had questioned whether the reasonable suspicion standard would support just about any pat-down. He asked whether officers could frisk anyone who “looks like trouble.” He did not file a dissent, however.

The case is Arizona v. Johnson.

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