May 21, 2019 – The Wisconsin Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that police did not violate a driver’s Fourth Amendment rights by asking whether the driver had a concealed firearm in the vehicle and whether he had a permit to carry it.
The circuit court in Milwaukee ruled that police violated John Wright’s constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures after stopping him for a faulty headlight.
When an officer approached Wright’s vehicle, the officer asked whether Wright had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The officer also asked if Wright had a concealed weapon, and Wright told him he had a firearm in the glove compartment.
Wright then granted another officer permission to remove the firearm from the vehicle. The officer checked to see if Wright had a permit to carry a concealed weapon (CCW permit). Wright did not have a valid CCW permit. He was arrested and charged with unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon. Wright challenged the search in circuit court.
He moved to suppress evidence of the firearm and it was granted by the circuit court, which concluded that police unlawfully extended the traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
You Might Also Like ...
Court Says Transporting a Gun in a Glove Box Without a Concealed Carry License was Illegal – WisBar News (April 11, 2018)
The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision, upheld a man’s conviction for transporting a loaded handgun in his car’s glove compartment without a concealed carry license, rejecting an argument that the concealed carry statute is unconstitutionally vague when viewed in tandem with the “Safe Transport Statute.”
In State v. Wright, 2019 WI 45 (April 30, 2019), the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously reversed, noting “questions related to officer safety are part of the traffic stop’s mission, and therefore, those questions do not cause an extension of the stop.”
Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote the unanimous decision, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “the tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure’s ‘mission’” but covers “related safety concerns.”
“If a police officer may, in the interest of officer safety, order all occupants out of the vehicle for the duration of the stop without violating the Fourth Amendment, the officer may take a less burdensome precaution to ensure officer safety,” Abrahamson wrote.
Wright argued that police were asking about a CCW permit, and such knowledge would not make the officer any safer. The supreme court agreed, but made a distinction.
“In the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, asking whether a motorist holds a CCW permit and conducting a CCW permit check constitute an unrelated investigation into whether the motorist is unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon,” Justice Abrahamson noted.
But making unrelated inquiries is permissible, the Justice Abrahamson noted, “so long as those inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.”
“In the instance case, there is no evidence that the CCW permit question or the CCW permit check measurably extended the duration of the traffic stop.”
The court also concluded that conducting a CCW permit check “was conducted concurrently with mission-related activities, namely, running Wright’s information.” The supreme court vacated the circuit court’s order on suppression and remanded the case.