Legality of Searching Other Passengers During Driver Arrest
In Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295, 297, 143 L. Ed. 2d 408, 119 S. Ct. 1297 (1999), the Court addressed "whether police officers violate the Fourth Amendment when they search a passenger's personal belongings inside an automobile that they have probable cause to believe contains contraband." In that case, a police officer stopped a car for speeding and having a faulty brake light. Houghton, 526 U.S. at 297.
While speaking with the driver, the officer noticed a syringe sticking out of the driver's shirt pocket, which the driver admitted he used to take illegal drugs. Id. at 298. Upon request, the driver and his passengers, including Houghton, exited the car, and the officer searched it. Id.
During the search, the officer found Houghton's purse, opened it, and discovered methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Id.
The Court held that the police did not violate the Fourth Amendment by searching Houghton's purse. Id. at 307. "'If probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully stopped vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search,'" regardless of ownership. Id. at 301 (quoting United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 825, 72 L. Ed. 2d 572, 102 S. Ct. 2157, 2173)).
The Court reasoned, in significant part, that "a criminal might be able to hide contraband in a passenger's belongings as readily as in other containers in the car," thereby justifying a search of those belongings. Id. at 305.
Moreover, the Court avoided the creation of a "passenger's property exception" to car searches that, once it became widely known, would induce passenger-confederates to claim everything as their own and thereby thwart the interests of law enforcement. Id.
The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 137, 56 L. Ed. 2d 168, 98 S. Ct. 1717 (1978).
Generally, a warrantless search is per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. State v. Branham, 191 Ariz. 94, 95, 952 P.2d 332, 333 (App. 1997) (citing State v. Castaneda, 150 Ariz. 382, 389, 724 P.2d 1, 8 (1986)). However, such searches are upheld if conducted incident to a valid arrest. Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 762-63, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685, 89 S. Ct. 2034 (1969).