Summary of Pennsylvania v. Mimms (1977), US Supreme Court
Procedure: The defendant was convicted in the court of common pleas in Philadelphia of carrying a concealed firearm and carrying a firearm without a license. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed and remanded the conviction, finding that the gun was seized as a result of an unlawful search and seizure by cops. The supreme court of the USA reverses the Penn Supreme Court holding and reinstates the trial court.
Facts: Two Philly cops were on a routine patrol when they observed Mimms the defendant driving a car, which had an expired license plate on it. The officer’s stopped the vehicle so they could ticket the driver for the moving violation. The officer pursuant to safety concerns asked the driver (Mimms) to exit the vehicle; he saw a bulge in a sport jacket he was wearing (An Eagle fan no doubt). A frisk of Mimms uncovered a loaded 38-caliber handgun in his waistband and his passenger had a loaded 32 caliber on him as well, so both were arrested for carry concealed firearms without a license and carry a firearm in general on their person without a permit.
Issue: Whether the order to get out of the car, issued after the driver was lawfully detained, was reasonable and thus permissible under the 4th Amendment?
Rule/Holding: This was a common practice for police to ask motorists who were being cited for motor vehicle violations to step out of their car. Establishing the face-to-face contact between the police and the driver being detained on violation diminishes the possibility that a person will do movements unobserved in their car and assault the officer. Also if the stop is executed in a high traffic area, having the driver step around to the back of his vehicle gets the officer out of the danger of standing in the road near traffic. This amounts to a mere inconvenience for a driver, but is reasonable given a police officer’s concern for his or her safety. By stepping out of the car he only revealed little more than was already visible when he was seated in the vehicle. The bulge in the jacket permitted the officer to conclude that Mimm’s was armed and thus posed a serious and present danger to the safety of the officer. In these circumstances, any man of “reasonable caution" would likely have conducted the “pat down." The decision of Penn Supreme Court is reversed.
Dissenting: (Marshall) He saw Terry as involving the observations of a thirty-year police veteran, who had been patrolling the downtown area of Cleveland and knew what type of suspicious activity that would lead a police officer to have reasonable suspicion that an armed robbery was about to take place or had taken place. The stop and frisk under Terry was reasonable because one who was suspected of attempting a stick up is likely to be armed and a danger to the officer as well as other citizens. In this case officers didn’t have the slightest hint that the respondent might have a gun in the car or was up to no good. The officer’s response must bear a direct correlation to circumstances, which first justified the interference. Doesn’t like how this decision broadens Terry, beyond what the original scope was suppose to.
Dissenting: (Brennan, Stevens, Marshall) today without argument the Court adopts still another – and even lesser – standard of justification for a major category of police seizures. He sees officer safety as important, but finds the evidence of how officers are slain to be unconvincing since some law enforcement training manuals instruct officers not to have suspects get out of there cars, when issuing traffic tickets. If beyond the moving violation, the suspect has something he wishes to hide getting out of the car could lead to a violent confrontation between the officer and suspect who thinks the cop is on to him. This standard could lead to elderly people, mothers with small children and other who would otherwise raise no red flags with police inconvenienced by getting out of there vehicle pursuant to police orders. The court hold today that “third-class" seizures may be imposed without reason; how large this class of seizures may be or become we cannot know yet. The cops didn’t have a good reason for asking Mimms to exit his vehicle!