ARIZONA v. JOHNSON

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
07-1122
Petitioner 
Arizona
Respondent 
Lemon Montrea Johnson
Advocates
(argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner)
(argued the cause for the respondent)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Lemon Johnson was riding in the backseat of a car when it was pulled over by the state police in Sugar Hill, Arizona. The officers had scanned the license of the car and found that it had a "mandatory insurance suspension." Although the stop was solely predicated on the suspended license, the officers began to question the car's occupants, including Johnson, about gang activity in the area. Based on certain circumstantial evidence, such as Johnson's possession of a police scanner, the officers asked Johnson to exit the car so that they could question him further. Although Johnson was free to stay in the car, he voluntarily exited and a subsequent search of his person by the officers revealed a handgun and a small amount of marijuana. Based on evidence obtained during this search, Johnson was convicted in Arizona state court of (1) the unlawful possession of a weapon as a prohibited possessor and (2) possession of marijuana. Johnson appealed, arguing that the evidence recovered from the search should have been suppressed because the officers did not have probable cause to search him at the time of his arrest and therefore did so in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The Court of Appeals of Arizona agreed with Johnson and reversed his conviction and sentence. The court found that the officers had no reason to believe that Johnson was involved in any criminal activity when he was searched. The officers requested that Johnson step out of the car to discuss gang activity, not because the officers feared that their safety was threatened, thus it was part of a consensual encounter between the officers and Johnson. Therefore, the court said, the officers' subsequent search of Johnson was illegal and unconstitutional.

Question 

Do officers violate the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures when, after making a routine traffic stop, they search an individual who is consensually conversing with those officers?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Arizona, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Fourth Amendment

No. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court reversed the Arizona Court of Appeals. It held that Mr. Johnson's encounter with police officers was not consensual and therefore did not violate his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The Court reasoned that lawful traffic stops entail the "temporary seizure of driver and passengers" that continues for the duration of the stop. Officer inquiries into matters unrelated to the stop do not transform the event into a "consensual" encounter whereby the driver or passenger is free to go as he or she pleases. Therefore, the police officers who frisked Mr. Johnson were not constitutionally required to depart the scene without first ensuring that he was not armed and dangerous, so long as they reasonably suspected he was armed and dangerous.

Cite this Page
ARIZONA v. JOHNSON. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 20 October 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_1122>.
ARIZONA v. JOHNSON, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_1122 (last visited October 20, 2014).
"ARIZONA v. JOHNSON," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed October 20, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_1122.