During a Terry stop, an officer who has reasonable suspicion that a suspect is armed and dangerous may frisk the suspect and may confiscate any weapons that the officer finds. Does an officer have the same authority during a traffic stop? In other words, if an officer reasonably suspects that a driver is in possession of a gun, even lawfully, may the officer confiscate the gun for the duration of the stop as a safety precaution? What about during a consensual encounter between an officer and a pedestrian?
Sometimes a legislature enacts a statute that has consequences beyond the direct impact of the statute’s provisions. West Virginia’s statute allowing the carrying of a concealed weapon with a permit may be such an example, based on the February 23, 2016, ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Robinson. The court ruled that a West Virginia officer did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct a frisk because there was insufficient evidence of dangerousness, relying in part on a person’s right in West Virginia to carry a concealed weapon with a permit. And this ruling may impact cases in other states, such as North Carolina, that have a statute similar, although not identical, to West Virginia’s. This post discusses this ruling and its potential impact in North Carolina state courts.