3/8/2010Indiana Appeals Court: Concealed Carry Not A License To Be Searched
Indiana Appeals Court ruled that police were wrong to handcuff and search motorist merely because he held a valid concealed handgun permit.
Police may not search a vehicle merely because its driver has been issued a valid concealed carry permit, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday. A three-judge appellate panel weighed the actions of Indianapolis Police Officer Danny Reynolds who pulled over Melvin Washington for driving with a burned-out headlight on September 17, 2008 at 12:30am.
On that morning, Reynolds first asked Washington whether he had a gun, and Washington said he had one under his seat. Washington also carried a valid concealed carry permit. At this point, Reynolds ordered Washington out of the car and handcuffed him so that he could conduct a search under the seat of Washington's vehicle. Reynolds spotted a small bag of marijuana and issued Washington a court summons and a ticket for the defective headlight. Washington was then released with his handgun placed in the trunk of his vehicle, unloaded.
Washington moved to have the evidence against him suppressed because the warrantless search, he argued, violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. A lower court disagreed, insisting that "officer safety" justified the search. The court of appeals did not buy the safety argument.
"In the present case, prior to the search for the handgun, Officer Reynolds did not express any concerns for officer safety," Judge James S. Kirsch wrote for the majority. "Although Washington admitted that a handgun was present inside of the car, he was at all times totally cooperative with Officer Reynolds The testimony at the suppression hearing indicated that, during the traffic stop, Washington made no furtive movements, answered the officer's questions, and showed no disrespect to the officer. At the time he searched for the handgun, Officer Reynolds had no information that any crime or violation of law had been or was about to be committed, except for the inoperable headlight infraction. Further, at the suppression hearing, Officer Reynolds did not testify that he had any specific concern for officer safety during his traffic stop of Washington."
Because no legitimate safety exception to the Fourth Amendment applied in this case, the court ruled the search was improper. Judge Melissa S. May added in a concurring opinion that the majority's ruling created a subjective element -- cooperation -- that could serve as a loophole allowing searches. To solve this problem, May cited the US Supreme Court case Arizona v. Gant where a warrantless vehicle search was overturned because the suspect had no access to his car (view decision).
"While we are dealing here with a traffic stop, rather than an arrest, the fact remains that Washington, like Gant, was removed from his car and handcuffed," May wrote. "Accordingly, Washington's statement there was a gun under his seat simply could not justify a search of his car based on concern for officer safety."
A copy of the decision is available in a PDF file at the source link below.