The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that asking about a concealed weapon during a traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
John Patrick Wright was charged with carrying a concealed weapon in violation of Wisconsin State Statute § 941.23(2). Two Milwaukee police officers pulled Wright over for having his passenger headlight out. During the traffic stop, the officers inquired whether there was a weapon in the car and whether Wright had a valid concealed carry permit (commonly called a CCW permit in Wisconsin). Wright admitted there was a weapon in his glove compartment and allowed the officers to confiscate it for the duration of the traffic stop. Wright was then arrested for unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon, leading to this case.
Wright moved to suppress the evidence of the gun under the Fourth Amendment because it unlawfully extended the traffic stop. The circuit court granted Wright’s motion and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin granted review in order to examine three questions:
(1) in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, may an officer ask a lawfully stopped motorist about the presence of weapons;
(2) in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, may an officer ask a lawfully stopped motorist whether the motorist holds a CCW permit;
(3) in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, may an officer conduct a CCW permit check.
The Supreme Court found that the concealed carry inquiries did not meaningfully extend the traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court specifically found that police have a right to make inquiries incident to the traffic stop that may protect their safety. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case back down to the lower courts vacating the motion to suppress.