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Indiana AG: Citizens Don't Forfeit 4th Amendment Rights When Exercising 2nd Amendment Rights

Curtis Hill is asking SCOTUS to adopt the same rule as Indiana: Mere possession of a firearm does not justify a "stop & frisk"

On May 9, 2017, the Indiana Supreme Court resolved a long-standing dispute in Indiana:

May a police officer detain an individual in possession of a firearm in order to verify that the person's possession of the gun is lawful?

In Pinner v. State, the court ruled that the mere possession of a gun, without some additional indication that the possession is illegal, does not justify a police officer in conducting an "investigatory stop" of the individual to check to see if the person has a License to Carry Handgun or that the person's possession of the firearm is otherwise lawful. And since the possession of a gun alone does not justify a stop - it also does not justify a search of the individual as part of a "stop & frisk."  

Now, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is asking the United States Supreme Court to accept a case that originated in West Virginia, Shaquille Robinson v. U.S.. and urging SCOTUS to create a similar rule for the country as a whole that Indiana adopted in the Pinner case.  

In Robinson, a witness called authorities to report that he had seen a man in a parking lot of a 7-Eleven loading a gun and placing that gun into his pocket.  The witness gave a description of the armed man and the car he got into in the parking lot.  Officers then pulled over the car - purportedly because neither Robinson nor the female driver were wearing a seatbelt - and asked Robinson to exit the vehicle.  When asked if he was armed, Robinson did not respond verbally but gave the officer "a weird look."  At this point, Robinson was directed to place his hands on the roof of the vehicle, he was searched, and the officer recovered a handgun from his pocket.  Robinson was arrested, prosecuted and convicted under federal law for illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the primary issue was whether police had the legal right to search Robinson during the traffic stop.  Robinson argued that the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights, since the police officers were acting only on a tip that he was armed and had no reason to believe that his possession of a firearm was illegal or that he was a danger to the officers at the time of the stop.  In ruling that the search was legal and upholding Robinson's conviction, the Fourth Circuit held that the mere possession of a firearm is sufficient for a police officer to fear for his safety and justifies a search of the person who is reportedly armed -- even with no reason to believe that the person's possession of the firearm is illegal.  

Now, Indiana is among five states (including Michigan, Utah, Texas and West Virginia) who have filed an "amicus curiae" (friend of the court) brief, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to grant Robinson's petition for certiorari and to review the case.  

In the brief, Indiana argues that the Fourth Circuit's ruling "forces an individual to choose between her right to bear arms under the Second Amendment and her right to be free from searches under the Fourth Amendment."  In effect, Indiana is now asking SCOTUS to adopt a rule very similar to the ruling of the Indiana Supreme Court in this year's Pinner case - that the mere possession of a firearm is not sufficient to justify a stop or a search of a person by a police officer without some other reason to believe that the armed person is committing a crime or is a danger to the officer.

Hoosiers should be proud that the State of Indiana, through our Attorney General, is taking a stand in support of our Constitutional rights—not only our right to bear arms, but our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures—recognizing that a person who chooses to exercise his Second Amendment rights should not automatically forfeit his rights under the Fourth Amendment. 


Guy A. Relford

Guy A. Relford is a Second Amendment attorney in Carmel, Indiana.  He is also the owner and chief instructor of Tactical Firearms Training, LLC in Indianapolis and the author of “Gun Safety & Cleaning for Dummies” (Wiley & Sons Publications, 2012).  He hosts “The Gun Guy with Guy Relford” on WIBC radio in Indianapolis.

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