Many people are shocked to find that law enforcement could basically detain a person based on “reasonable suspicion” because of carrying a firearm.
The Supreme Court this week declined to hear a case brought by gun-control advocates in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. The stunning ruling shows that yet again, this court is determined to protect the constitutional right to bear arms.
Essentially, the county prosecutors demanded that a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court be overturned, which ordered that police can’t simply detain a man because he is carrying a firearm.
The case involved a man tucking a revolver into his waistband, which was seen by a camera operator who saw it outside of a gas station. Allentown police detained him because of the call, despite the fact that he had a license to carry concealed.
Liberals, of course, are furious over both decisions. Because, it means that law enforcement can’t unlawfully pester or detain a person for simply concealing a handgun.
The Morning Call reported:
Michael J. Hicks, who was licensed to carry the gun, wasn’t charged with a weapons offense, but he was convicted of drunken driving as a result of his June 28, 2014, encounter with police.
The May decision by Pennsylvania justices overturned a longstanding legal doctrine that an officer’s knowledge of a concealed weapon was a sufficient basis for reasonable suspicion to detain a person and investigate whether they have a license to conceal.
In dismissing the drunken driving charge against Hicks, the state Supreme Court said the rule that permitted the stop “subverts the fundamental protections of the Fourth Amendment,” against unreasonable search and seizure.
“When many people are licensed to do something, and violate no law by doing that thing, common sense dictates that the police officer cannot assume that any given person doing it is breaking the law,” Justice David Wecht wrote in the court’s lead opinion.
The U.S. Supreme Court gave no explanation for denying the district attorney’s petition to appeal. Its decision means the state Supreme Court case will remain the law in Pennsylvania.
Heather Gallagher, chief deputy district attorney, called it a concerning decision.
“I think that it certainly implicates public safety. It makes law enforcement’s job in some ways more difficult,” Gallagher said.
[Blahblahblah… “safety” is always the reason we’re supposed to surrender our liberties.]
Deputy public defender Kathryn Smith, who represented Hicks, did not return a call Thursday.
In a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, the district attorney’s office argued that Pennsylvania Supreme Court ignored the high court’s standard of review for search and seizure cases that instructs judges to consider the “totality of the circumstances” through the eyes of the police officer.
The district attorney’s office argued the Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave no weight to the fact that the officers observed Hicks conceal the gun in his pants at 2:45 a.m. in a high-crime area known for drug trafficking and violent crime.
The office was also critical of the court’s comparison of carrying a concealed weapon to driving a car, reasoning that just as police cannot determine that someone driving a car is unlicensed, they cannot determine whether someone concealing a gun is doing so without a license.
If the decision were permitted to stand, the district attorney’s office said in its brief, officers would be required to show that a person concealing a weapon was involved in a crime. To wait for criminal activity to occur, perhaps at the expense of innocent bystanders, would be unreasonable, the brief said.
Berks County gun law expert Joshua Prince, who filed a friend of the court brief in the state Supreme Court case, said the ruling still permits police to approach and speak to a person with a gun. They simply need additional facts to support their suspicion that a crime is being committed to detain a person, he said.
“If someone has a firearm in one hand and a flashlight in the other and is peering through the windows of a dark house, that might give an officer reasonable suspicion,” Prince said.
He was not surprised the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal. The state Supreme Court also found Hicks’ arrest unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution’s equivalent of the Fourth Amendment, and the U.S. Supreme Court could not overturn that part of its decision, Prince said.
The Hicks decision is already having an impact on individual rights where the presence of a gun was the impetus for a police search that led to evidence used to charge people with other crimes. In those cases, the searches have been declared unconstitutional and the evidence thrown out.
For Hicks, the victory in finally winning his 2014 case is in not facing a suspension of his driver’s license, his attorney Smith said in May. His case, still active in Lehigh County Court, will be dismissed.