WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court let stand a Maryland court ruling that bans police officers from detaining passengers in traffic stops.
Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran argued that police need the power to temporarily detain passengers for safety reasons.
“The officer should not be subject to a potential danger when we’re talking about a very minimal inspection that may take maybe five minutes,” Curran said in an interview.
But civil libertarians said overturning the conviction of Bruce Lamont Dennis would have given police too much discretion to detain people only indirectly involved in a crime.
“Does that mean if I’m walking my dog down the street and the police happen to pull over a car in that area, the police can detain me?” said Dwight Sullivan of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Baltimore office. “Under the state’s rationale, I guess they could.”
In 1993, Dennis was a passenger in a car that was evading a patrolman in the Eastern Shore town of Princess Anne. When the policeman pulled over the car, Dennis ignored the officer’s command to remain inside.
When Dennis began walking away, the officer tackled him, and a fight ensued. He was convicted of battery and disorderly conduct.
Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals overturned the conviction, saying the Constitution forbids police from detaining people unless they are suspected of a crime. The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed.
Last year, the Supreme Court told the Maryland Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision in light of a new precedent that broadened police powers to stop motorists.
Earlier this year, the Maryland Court of Appeals once again upheld its decision in Dennis’ favor.
In other action Monday, the Supreme Court also declined to hear without comment:
–A North Potomac man’s claim that his accusation against a Bethesda surgeon should be heard in court. John A. Langworthy said Dr. Juvenal R. Goicochea performed a brutal castration experiment on him during what should have been a routine hernia operation. The lower courts had ruled that the case should have gone to a malpractice arbitrator and not a trial court.
–Robert Donnell Jones’ bid to have a 1975 assault with intent to murder conviction overturned. Jones claimed he should not have been allowed to file a guilty plea in the Baltimore case because he was under the influence of heroin at the time.