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Appeals court restricts police powers


Maryland's second-highest court ruled Wednesday that a police officer who makes a traffic stop may not automatically order passengers out of the car.

Though the driver may be ordered out of the car, passengers may be only if the officer believes they have a weapon and pose a threat, the Court of Special Appeals said.

"The State has not persuaded us that the automatic police prerogative . . . to order a driver out of a vehicle . . . should be extended to a passenger -- on an automatic basis," wrote Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr.

The decision affirms a Jan. 10 ruling by Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger. The judge had ruled that $9,300 worth of crack cocaine confiscated in a 1994 traffic stop was inadmissible because it was seized illegally.

The case stems from Trooper David Hughes' stop of a car for speeding on Interstate 95. He questioned the driver, then ordered a passenger out of the car. The passenger was charged after a bag of cocaine fell to the ground. The charge was dropped after Judge Bollinger's ruling.

The appeals court said the trooper had no reason to order the passenger out of the car.

G. Warren Mix, the passenger's lawyer, said the ruling sets needed guidelines for police, who have been criticized for stopping black men on I-95. Three people in the car are black, he said.

NB Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. has appealed the ruling.

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