Who Can the Police Detain in a Traffic Stop?

Can the police detain a car passenger even if that’s not the reason they were pulled over? Several Florida courts have said that the police are not allowed to detain a passenger who attempts to leave the scene of a lawful traffic stop without violating that passenger’s constitutional rights. But an appeals court in Daytona Beach recently said that the police are allowed to do just that.

In the case of Edwin Aguiar versus the State of Florida, Mr. Aguiar was the front-seat passenger in a car that the police stopped because a brake light was out, and the driver was not wearing a seat belt. When the driver pulled into a parking space in a restaurant parking lot, Aguiar immediately opened the passenger-side door and stepped out. The officer who was on scene ordered Aguiar to get back into the car, and Aguiar ultimately did so. But then the officer saw a bag of cocaine and arrested Aguiar for possessing it.

The appeals court said that the officer lawfully detained Aguiar for the following reasons:

When an officer approaches a car that has been stopped for a traffic violation, that officer needs to be ready to react to violence that could come from anyone located inside that vehicle. A passenger who gets out of a car and begins to walk away is a distraction that divides the officer's attention, thereby increasing the potential risk of harm to the officer. As the passenger moves further away from the car, it becomes impossible for the officer to watch that passenger and the remaining occupants. If the officer focuses on the potential threat from the passenger, that officer might not notice that one of the occupants is about to attack him. Conversely, if the officer focuses on those inside the car, then he might not notice that the departing passenger is returning to harm him. Or he might not notice that the passenger who left the immediate area has a gun and is about to shoot at him from a distance.

Even if you are not the driver of a vehicle that gets pulled over, you can still be held accountable for violations of the law. Be careful when a car you are in gets pulled over by the police, as you are still liable as a passenger in the vehicle. If you feel like your rights have been violated, contact me Ron Chapman at 561-832-4348 or connect with my West Palm Beach Law Office online today. I am an experienced criminal defense attorney and am dedicated to defending your rights.

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