Protective Searches of a Motor Vehicle: Passenger Compartment

There are dangers police officers face when executing routine traffic stops. In Pennsylvania v. Mimms, the United States Supreme Court held that police may order persons out of a motor vehicle during a traffic stop and may frisk those persons for weapons if there is a reasonable belief that they are armed and dangerous. Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977). The Court decided the grounds upon which the police could conduct a protective search of the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle in the landmark decision of Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983). The Court held that a police officer may conduct a limited search of the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle provided that he or she possesses a reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts which reasonably warrant the officer believing that the suspect is dangerous and may gain access to weapons. Essentially, this is a Terry stop and frisk of a motor vehicle. The officers, under the Long decision, can conduct a frisk of a motor vehicle for weapons during a routine traffic stop if they have a reasonable suspicion based on specific articulable facts that the individuals in the automobile are dangerous.