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  • Nicholas Adamopoulos

SJC Broadens Police Pat Frisk of Vehicle Passengers

SJC Broadens Police Pat Frisks of Vehicle Passengers


The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a split decision, has broadened the pat frisk capabilities of law enforcement when it comes to passengers within a vehicle. The SJC’s decision was issued on December 22, 2021 in the case of Commonwealth v. Zahkuan Sweeting-Bailey.


Pat frisks within Massachusetts are only permissible when an officer has reasonable suspicion that the stopped individual may be armed and dangerous. The long-standing test issued by the SJC has been whether a reasonable prudent person in the officer’s position would be warranted in the belief that the safety of the police or that of other persons was in danger. In the Sweeting-Bailey case, the SJC concluded and ultimately held that the behavior of one individual within the vehicle can be an action taken into account by officers to determine if there is a reasonable suspicion that other passengers within the vehicle may be armed, and whether the safety of the officers and the public may be at risk. The SJC stated specifically that “it is entirely possible that even where a defendant did not himself or herself behave in a suspicious manner at the time of the stop, other factors, including a companion’s behavior, might be sufficient in light of the other factors to create specific, articulable facts that warrant a reasonable suspicion that the passenger is armed and dangerous.”


This new court decision has broadened the ability for officers to now pat frisk passengers found within a vehicle. Officers can now impute the behavior of one passenger to others in the vehicle when making a determination of whether others may be armed and dangerous.


If you have been charged with a crime as a passenger within a vehicle; and were charged following a pat frisk or search while a passenger within a vehicle, call Lake Shore Legal and speak to one of our attorneys. While the SJC has broadened the capabilities of the officers; the Zahkuan holding does provide that officers still must be able to articulate a number of factors to impute the behavior of one individual to others. Arguments focused upon a lack of sufficient factors to allow for this new court holding to apply to different cases will be crucial over the next several months. Speak with one of our skilled attorneys so that your privacy rights can be properly protected.

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