Question: (1) May peace officers order a driver to get out of a lawfully detained vehicle without additional reasonable suspicion or probable cause? (2) Does on-scene investigative questioning trigger a suspect’s Fifth Amendment Miranda rights?
Quick answer: (1) Yes. (2) No.
Facts: A police officer stopped a vehicle because it was continuously drifting over the center-lane line. When the officer requested the driver’s license and registration information, he noticed that the defendant, Robert Jackson, was bending over and moving around in the back seat. The officer asked Jackson to stop. The driver, Priscilla Jones, didn’t have any license, registration, or insurance papers, so the officer asked Jones to get out of the car. He frisked her, finding drug paraphernalia, and she also revealed that Jackson had drugs with him inside the car. The officer then asked Jackson to get out of the car. As Jackson exited the backseat, the officer saw a knife on the floor with white residue on it. He started asking Jackson a number of questions, such as if he had any weapons or drugs on him. Jackson responded that he had a knife in his back pocket, so the officer searched him, finding another knife with white residue and $230. At that point, the officer read Jackson his Miranda rights and placed him under arrest. A later search of the car uncovered a large amount of crack cocaine in the backseat. Jackson filed a motion to suppress the incriminating evidence based on a prolonged traffic stop and a Fifth Amendment Miranda violation.
Why this case is important: The court held that no constitutional violations occurred. First, Jackson’s stop was not unconstitutionally prolonged by an officer “fishing expedition.” Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Pennsylvania v. Mimms, a peace officer may order a driver or passenger out of a lawfully stopped vehicle so long as the intrusion is minimal and meant to advance officer safety. This is commonly called a “Mimms order.” Here, once Jones was asked out of the car, she admitted that Jackson had drugs in the backseat. Her admission gave the officer probable cause to continue a secondary drug investigation by asking Jackson to step out of the car. And when the officer saw a residue-covered knife in the backseat, this gave him probable cause not just to frisk Jackson, but to fully search him.
Second, the officer didn’t violate Jackson’s Miranda rights when he questioned Jackson during the pat-down. Peace officers are permitted to conduct on-scene questioning without triggering the Fifth Amendment. In this case, the officer’s questions involved where Jackson was coming from and what the officer would find on him during the lawful pat-down. There was no need for the officer to provide Jackson with any Miranda warnings.
Keep in mind: If you have lawfully seized a vehicle, you can make a “Mimms order” without any additional level of suspicion. Just make sure, though, that the order is for the purpose of officer safety because it is still considered an intrusion into the occupant’s personal liberty, however small. Also, there is no need to issue Miranda warnings during any on-scene questioning unless you’ve placed the suspect in “custody” under the Fifth Amendment.
to read the entire opinion.