When can a passenger of a vehicle be legally searched?

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When can a passenger of a vehicle be legally searched?

My girlfriend was pulled over for speeding I was in the passenger seat. I was moving and a second officer opened the door and asked me what I put in my shoe or on the floor. I said nothing he then made me get out of the car and searched me he found weed in my pocket and arrested me. Can he legally search and arrest me even though I was in the passenger seat minding my own business?

Asked on October 31, 2012 under Criminal Law, Alabama

Answers:

B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

If an officer can articulate a legitimate reason for frisking and then searching a passenger, then they can search the passenger.  Furtive movements always draw an officer's attention because it is activity consistent with concealing contraband or retrieving a weapon to be used against an officer.  If an officer saw you making furtive movements, then they would have the right to detain and frisk you for officer safety.  If, during the frisk, he felt an item in your pocket that he recognized as contraband (i.e. marijuana), then he is then authorized to retrieve it.  If the officer cannot articulate facts to justify a detention, a frisk, or a search, then no, a passener cannot be searched.  Unfortunately, many officers think that "Terry" frisks should be done on every person at every encounter--- when in actuality, the law requires the officer to express some justification that they are concerned for officer safety.  Furtive gestures (moving around) have been consistently held to contribute to this finding.

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The police had probable cause to search you because they had a reasonable belief that you were armed after observing your furtive movement.  When they did a patdown and found marijuana in your pocket, you were subject to arrest.  The marijuana is admissible evidence.


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