Wednesday, July 16, 1997

US Supreme Court Pennsylvania v. Mimms 76-1830

Decided December 5, 1977

   Mimms was stopped for driving with an expired license plate, and at the beginning of the traffic stop he was instructed to get out of the car.  There were no particular facts on the record to justify that instruction, it was simply something that the officer chose to do.  When Mimms got out of the car, the officer noticed a suspicious bulge in his clothing and searched him for weapons.  The bulge was a gun, Mimms was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.

   He was convicted, but the conviction was reversed on appeal.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the initial stop was justified, and that once the bulge was observed the search was justified, but that removing Mimms from the car was unreasonable because there were no additional facts (beyond those justifying the traffic stop) to justify this seizure.

   The US Supreme Court reversed, upholding Mimms' original conviction.  In reaching this conclusion, the court balanced the government's substantial interest in the safety of law enforcement officers against Mimm's minimal privacy interest in sitting in the car.  The court held that it was reasonable for the officer to remove Mimms from the car without requiring additional facts beyond those which justified the initial stop.