5/1/2019Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Gun Questions During Traffic Stops
Police in Wisconsin may question motorists during traffic stop about whether they have a guns and gun permits under a new high court ruling.
Wisconsin motorists will have to answer questions about guns when they are pulled over by police for traffic offenses. That was the decision Tuesday by the state Supreme Court, which ruled against John Patrick Wright who told officers he had a gun in his glove compartment, even though he did not yet have a concealed carry permit.
Wright had been driving in Milwaukee on June 15, 2016, when he was pulled over for having a headlight out. Officer Kristopher Sardina asked Wright for his driver's license and he also asked whether he had a concealed carry permit and a gun in the car. Wright said he did have a gun in the glove box, and that he had just finished the class required to apply for a permit. Since he did not have the permit in hand, he was arrested.
Two lower courts rejected the questioning about guns, saying it was a Fourth Amendment violation to extend the stop to inquire about issues unrelated to the headlight. The officer confirmed in testimony that the computer showed Wright had no criminal history and there was no evidence of any kind that he was either armed or dangerous. Instead, he was responsive and cooperative throughout the stop. The high court nonetheless believed the questions were legitimate for reasons of officer safety.
"Asking a lawfully stopped motorist about the presence of weapons is significantly less burdensome than ordering all occupants out of the vehicle for the duration of the stop," Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson wrote for the court. "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."
The high court conceded that asking about a concealed weapons permit "does not make the officer any safer," but that this unrelated question poses a negligible burden on drivers.
"Obviously, Officer Sardina's CCW permit question took some amount of time to ask," Justice Abrahamson wrote. "However, we view the time it took Officer Sardina to ask the CCW question as de minimis and virtually incapable of measurement. Thus, the CCW question did not violate the Fourth Amendment in the instant case."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.