Wednesday, March 4, 1998

US Supreme Court Michigan v. Long 82-256

Decided July 6, 1983

   Long was speeding through a rural area when two deputies saw him swerve into a ditch.  When they caught up to him, he had gotten out of his car.  He seemed to be under the influence of something, and was slow to respond to questions.  He eventually gave them his license, then headed back towards his open car door in response to a request for his registration.  One of the deputies noticed a hunting knife on the floorboard, so they stopped Long from entering the car and searched him for weapons.  Then one of the deputies visually inspected the interior of the car, looking for more weapons.  Instead, he found pot.

   Long was arrested, and the car was impounded.  During an inventory of the car, the deputies found 75 lbs of pot in the trunk.  Long was later convicted of possession.  He appealed his conviction, arguing that Terry v. Ohio only authorized the deputies to search his person for weapons, not his car.

   The US Supreme Court held that where circumstances justify a protective frisk, that search extends to the suspect's person and to the area under his immediate control.  Under these circumstances, the areas of the car which the deputies first searched (basically, what you could get to through the open driver's door) were held to be sufficiently under Long's control to justify the search even though Long was being prevented from accessing the car.  The court recognized that if Long were to break free of police control, or if he were to be allowed back into his car at the completion of the stop or during the stop (such as if he were allowed to retrieve his registration), then he would have access to any weapons that might have been concealed there.

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