Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - Spokesman-Review (WA)
Supreme Court: If Drugs Found in Car, All Riders May be Held
By Gina Holland, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court issued a traffic warning Monday: Beware of whom you ride with. If drugs are found in a vehicle, all occupants can be arrested, the justices said in a unanimous decision.
It was a victory for Maryland and 20 other states that argued police frequently find drugs in traffic stops but no one in the vehicle claims them. The court gave officers the go-ahead to arrest everyone.
In a small space like a car, an officer could reasonably infer "a common enterprise" among a driver and passengers, the court ruled.
The case stemmed from an incident in 1999, when police in the Baltimore suburbs pulled over a speeding car. A search revealed a roll of cash in the glove compartment and cocaine in an armrest in the back seat.
The driver and the two passengers denied having anything to do with the contraband, so all three men were arrested.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the court, said police had probable cause to suspect that the drugs belonged to any of the three, or all of them.
Lisa Kemler, a criminal defense attorney from Alexandria, Va., said the court seems to be saying: "know who your company is."
"How many times have you gotten a ride with a friend? Are you going to peer around in their glove compartment?" asked Kemler, who fears the ruling will lead to a police dragnet.
Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a pro-law enforcement group, said police can't be expected to sort out ownership of drugs or guns in the middle of a traffic stop.
"You certainly wouldn't let three people with Uzis in their car leave because no one would admit the Uzis were theirs," he said.
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