Published on: Thursday, October 12, 2017

Today, SCOTUSblog’s petition of the day is Robinson v. United States, No. 16-1532 (U.S. Jun. 22, 2017) (cert. filed), which concerns the application Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), in the growing number of jurisdictions, like West Virginia, which allow residents to freely carry firearms.  Under Terry, a police officer who makes a legal  investigatory stop without probable cause or a warrant may conduct a limited pat-down, or frisk, of a suspect’s outer clothing only if the officer has a reasonable belief that the suspect is “armed and presently dangerous.”

In Robinson, the petitioner, represented by the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Martinsburg, WV, and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, asks the Supreme Court to decide the following question: “In a state that permits residents legally to carry firearms while in public, whether, or under what circumstances, an officer’s belief that a person is armed allows the officer to infer for purposes of a Terry search that the person is “presently dangerous.”  The petition observes this question has sharply divided state and federal courts.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals below, and three other Courts, have held that an officer’s reasonable belief that a weapon is present is itself enough to justify a search. See United States v. Robinson, 846 F.3d 964 (4th Cir. 2017) (en banc); United States v. Rodriquez, 739 F.3d 481, 491 (10th Cir. 2013); United States v. Orman, 486 F.3d 1170, 1176 (9th Cir. 2007); People v. Colyar, 999 N.E.2d 575, 587 (Ill. 2013).   

In contrast, two federal courts of appeals and three state courts have come to the opposite conclusion: an officer’s belief that an individual is armed does not categorically justify a Terry search in states that allow residents to carry guns in public.  See Northrup v. City of Toledo Police Dept., 785 F.3d 1128, 1132 (6th Cir. 2015); United States v. Leo, 792 F.3d 742, 748 (7th Cir 2015); State v. Serna, 331 P.3d 405, 410 (Ariz. 2014); State v. Bishop, 203 P.3d 1203, 1218, 1219 n.3 (Idaho 2009); State v. Vandenberg, 81 P.3d 19, 25 (N.M. 2003).

SCOTUSblog has links to the briefing in Robinson.  Defender Services provides program materials on search and seizure law.