Law and Politics

Start Free Trial

If an individual has a warrant out for their arrest and is a passenger in a car, can police pull the car over on a traffic violation but go directly to the individual's window and demand they exit the car? If the individual asks for the watch commander, does the deputy have to call the watch commander?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the United States, the police generally have the authority to control the movement of the driver and passengers of a vehicle they have stopped on a potential traffic violation. More specifically, police can lawfully order all occupants of a vehicle—including passengers—to exit the vehicle. The Supreme Court addressed this question in the 1977 case Pennsylvania v. Mimms and the 1997 case Maryland v. Wilson.

In Mimms, the right of officers to compel the exit of drivers of a vehicle was decided. Wilson extended this to the passengers as well.

In other words, a police officer can require a passenger exit the vehicle during a traffic stop whether or not they have an arrest warrant in their name.

Because the order to exit a vehicle is therefore a lawful order, failure to comply with the order may subject the non-compliant person to arrest for obstruction of justice or a state-specific similar statute. To effect an arrest, an officer has the authority to use physical force, including forcing entry into a vehicle.

A law enforcement officer has no legal obligation to contact a watch commander, or anyone else, if demanded by a passenger in a vehicle or any other person.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team