Is Carrying a Firearm Reason Enough to Get Stopped on the Street by Police in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania criminal gun possession law has changed due to a recent PA Supreme Court case, Commonwealth v. Hicks (May 31, 2019). Prior to the Hicks case, police officers were allowed to stop individuals on the street who were carrying a gun in their personal effects or who appeared to be carrying a firearm, i.e., in the waistband of pants, jacket pocket, etc.
For example, a police officer is on patrol in Chester, PA. As the officer is walking down the street, he overhears pedestrians say that a man in front of a nearby store has a gun. Prior to the Hicks case, the officer would have been legally allowed to stop the man and ask about the gun under a Pennsylvania Superior Court case from 1991 which held that officers can stop an individual suspected of carrying a weapon and ask whether the person has a license to carry. See Commonwealth v. Robinson (“possession of a concealed firearm by an individual in public is sufficient to create a reasonable suspicion that the individual may be dangerous, such that an officer can approach the individual and briefly detain him in order to investigate whether the person is properly licensed.”)
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Now, under the Hicks case, an officer is NO LONGER ALLOWED to stop an individual merely because the officer believes the individual is carrying a gun. The Hicks court found that it’s not illegal to carry a gun in the state of Pennsylvania so long as the individual has a valid license. So, an officer shouldn’t be able to stop and frisk someone on the street for doing something that’s actually legal.
Using the same example, the officer would not be able to stop the individual who had a gun unless the officer could point to other facts which showed the individual was committing a crime or about to commit one.
More: Pulled Over in Philadelphia & Arrested for Drugs or Guns in the Car? What to Know About Your Legal Rights
Stop & Frisk – When Can an Officer Stop & Frisk Someone on a Street?
Pennsylvania residents in Philadelphia, Delaware County, Chester County, etc., may be stopped on the street if the police officer has reasonable suspicion that the person being stopped either committed a crime or is about to.
Reasonable suspicion is a lesser standard that probable cause. An officer must have more than a gut feeling or hunch to justify stopping someone on the street. The officer must be able to point to facts that show criminal conduct occurred, is occurring or is about to occur. Even if the officer has reasonable suspicion to stop someone, the detention or contact must be brief.
After being stopped, an officer may conduct a frisk or pat down of the person’s body if the officer reasonably believes, again based on some facts, that the person is armed or dangerous.
For more info, visit the Pennsylvania Criminal Gun Possession Law Library.