SCOWIS: MPD officer didn’t violate constitutional rights when asking about gun during traffic stop
MADISON — A Milwaukee police officer did not violate the constitutional rights of a person pulled over for a routine traffic stop when the officer asked if they had a weapon in the car, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The unanimous Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings that said the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to ask the question.
John Patrick Wright was pulled over late one night in June 2016 because of a broken tail light. The officer asked Wright he was a concealed weapons permit holder and if he had any weapons in the vehicle. Wright told police that he had recently taken a class to get a permit and that he had a gun in the car.
Police found a loaded gun in the glove compartment of the car. Wright had no permit to carry it and he was arrested on a misdemeanor for carrying a concealed weapon without a license.
The Milwaukee County Circuit Court ruled that Wright’s traffic stop was legal, but it was unconstitutionally extended when the officer asked whether he had a concealed weapons permit or had a gun in the car.
The state appeals court upheld that decision.
But the Supreme Court, in a ruling written by Justice Shirley Abrahamson, said none of the officer’s actions or question violated the driver’s constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure.
The state argued that officers may take negligible precautions during traffic stops, such as asking whether there are weapons in the car, to protect their safety. Courts have previously ruled that questioning during traffic stops can be extended if there are legitimate reasons to be suspicious.
The court agreed that in this instance, asking Wright about whether he had a weapon in the car was not unconstitutional because it didn’t measurably extend the duration of the traffic stop.
“Questioning a lawfully stopped motorist about the presence of weapons related to officer safety and is negligibly burdensome,” Abrahamson wrote for the court. “The question is part of the traffic stop’s mission.”