Pubdate: Tue, 25 Mar 2003
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2003 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Author: Anne Gearan, Associated Press Writer


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court said Monday it will consider the scope 
of police power to arrest all occupants of a car during a traffic stop, 
agreeing to look at a case in which everyone in a car denied knowledge of 
drugs and a roll of cash found inside. The case from Maryland continues a 
line of Supreme Court cases clarifying when officers have probable cause 
and can apprehend someone without a warrant. In this case, the court will 
consider whether it was an unconstitutional stretch for the officer to link 
the front-seat passenger to drugs found in a back armrest, and then to 
arrest all three people in the car.

Twenty states had urged the court to hear the case, involving a 1999 
early-morning traffic stop in Baltimore County that yielded $763 in the 
glove compartment and five baggies of cocaine in an armrest in the backseat.

"Countless times each day, officers make traffic stops and uncover 
contraband in multipassenger situations. Police need the clarity of 
authority to know who may be arrested in such cases," Maryland Attorney 
General Joseph Curran argued in a court filing.

Joseph Jermaine Pringle, the front seat passenger, was convicted of drug 
charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

He later told police the drugs were his.

An appeals court threw out Pringle's conviction on grounds that his arrest 
was unconstitutional and the confession was tainted.

The Constitution's Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches or 
seizures. That means police almost always need a warrant to search 
someone's house without permission, but the Supreme Court has interpreted 
the protection more narrowly when it comes to automobiles and public 

Lower courts have differed on the correct standard for determining probable 
cause to arrest a car's occupants.

"The uncertainty generated by conflicting court decisions does not make the 
officers' already-difficult job any easier," Ohio Attorney General Jim 
Petro wrote on behalf of the 20 states siding with Maryland.

The case is Maryland v. Pringle, 02-809.
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