Understanding The Automatic Companion Rule


     In the United States, as American’s, we are afforded many rights which prevent oppressive and intrusive police conduct.  One of those rights, is the right to be free from intrusive searches and seizures of one’s person and property.  That right finds it’s life in the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which is synonymous with Article 1 Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  Today we will discuss what’s known as the Automatic Companion Rule, a rule which permits a “frisk search” of all companions of an arrestee. 

     There seems to be a common, but misplaced, belief by most people who are in the company of someone who gets arrested that they themselves cannot be searched by police because they are not actual person being arrested.  The rules which govern when police may stop a person in order to investigate the possibility of criminal activity are set out in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).  In general, an investigative stop is justified only upon reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and a limited pat-down search for weapons (referred to as a “Terry-Frisk”) may be conducted only if supported by the reasonable belief that the suspect is armed and dangerous. (See Commonwealth v. Melendez, 544 Pa. 323 (1996).

     The holdings in Terry v. Ohio have been further extended in what is known as the “Automaatic Companion Rule.”  Pursuant to the Automatic Companion Rule, it is permissible for police officers to conduct a protective “frisk” of companions to arrestees. The logic surrounding the Automatic Companion Rule is a simple one, namely, all companions of the arrestee within the immediate vicinity who are capable of accomplishing a harmful assault on the officer are constitutionally subjected to the cursory “pat down’ to give the arresting officer assurance that they are unarmed.  This rule is, founded upon the need for officer safety, rather than intrusion upon one’s rights against unreasonable searches.  This is not to say that some police have not abused the parameters of the rule to attempt to find other contraband on companions such as narcotics or drug paraphernalia which does not feel like a weapon during the frisk.

      As the companion of an arrestee, know your rights, and know the persons whose company you keep.  If you have been aggrieved by an intrusive search or seizure, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer who is versed in defending clients against violations of thier constitutional rights.  At the Law Office of Roy Galloway, your liberty and freedoms are the same as ours.  Contact us at 717-737-3300 for your free, no risk, consultation today.  Let us persuade the gavel for you throughour working knowledge of law, and skilled advocacy. Call today!