On January 23, 2017, in United States v. Robinson, Judge Wynn of the Federal 4th Circuit stated “individuals who carry firearms elect to subject themselves to being frisked when lawfully stopped by law enforcement officers.”, in his concurring opinion. In this case, a tip was called in to local police that a man was seen loading a pistol, placing it in his pocket, and then entering the passenger side of a vehicle. It is important to note that the vehicle was leaving a gas station well known for drug transactions. An officer was notified and he pulled the vehicle over after noticing the occupants did not have a seat belt on. The passenger was asked to step out of the vehicle and was then asked if he was armed. The passenger gave “a weird look” and the officer then asked him to put his hands on the vehicle and frisked him. The frisk found a firearm and it was later determined that the defendant was a felon and he was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The main issue of the case is that the officer did not know if the defendant legally possessed the firearm, so the question is whether having a tip that someone is armed and their avoidance of the officer’s question is enough to justify a frisk. The Court’s majority determined that it is enough to justify a frisk because “the risk of danger is created simply because the person, who was forcibly stopped, is armed.”. Judge Wynn, in his concurring opinion states that “individuals who choose to carry firearms forego certain constitutional protections afforded to individuals who elect not to carry firearms.” This is a difficult issue as the Court is forced to balance our 4th amendment rights against officer safety. It will be interesting to see if this issue ends up before the Supreme Court and how they rule. Issues like this are why Supreme Court appointments are so important.