In accordance with the Fourth Amendment, people have the right “to be
secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches
and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Even so, when police officers stop a
vehicle to investigate its occupants, “[p]olice officers are authorized to take
reasonable steps necessary to secure their safety and maintain the status quo.”
United States v. Garcia, 459 F.3d 1059, 1063 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting United
States v. Gama-Bastidas, 142 F.3d 1233, 1240 (10th Cir. 1998)). Not
surprisingly, the Supreme Court has recognized that passengers may present a risk
to officer safety equal to that of the driver. See Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S.
408, 413-14 (1997). Thus, “an officer making a traffic stop may order passengers
to get out of the car pending completion of the stop.” Id. at 415.
“‘In some circumstances,’ an officer may go further and conduct a
pat-down search for weapons.” United States v. Sanchez, 519 F.3d 1208, 1216
(10th Cir.) (quoting Garcia, 459 F.3d at 1063), cert. denied, 129 S.Ct. 167
(2008). “The purpose of the limited pat-down search is not to discover evidence
of crime, but to allow the officer to pursue his investigation without fear of
violence.” Id. (quotations omitted); see also United States v. Rice, 483 F.3d 1079,
1083 (10th Cir. 2007) (“Officer safety is the primary objective justifying an
officer’s right to perform a pat-down search.”).
Standards that the Supreme Court established in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1
(1968), govern the application of the Fourth Amendment to pat-down searches.
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