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Can a passenger challenge the stop or search of a car?


A passenger in a car has the right to challenge the stop of a car in North Carolina, under certain conditions. Generally speaking, in order for a  stop to be legally valid and enforceable, it must be based upon a reasonable suspicion that a crime or infraction violation was committed.

In the United States, the 4th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees that people have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure.  Same or similar provisions are required by the Constitution of North Carolina, and North Carolina General Statutes.

Therefore, in North Carolina, if a law enforcement officer pulls over a car the passenger is also “seized” and may object to the reason for the stop, just like the driver, because the passenger has been “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes, just like the driver.  This includes questioning the officers’ reasoning for initiating the stop in the first place, and asking them to provide legal evidence to prove why they feel it is necessary to stop the car.

In addition, if a law enforcement officer searches a vehicle without either the owner’s consent, probable cause, or a warrant, then any evidence collected during the search is likely to be deemed inadmissible in court. If a passenger believes their rights have been violated, they can challenge the search in court by filing a motion to suppress the evidence collected. The passenger’s attorney would need to present a compelling argument about why the evidence is not valid to successfully challenge the search.

Overall, passengers in cars in North Carolina have the right to challenge the stop and search of a car, even if the driver doesn’t.