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Fourth Circuit Finds Armed is Therefore Dangerous for Terry Frisk Purposes


The Fourth Amended protects all individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. One of the noted exceptions to the Fourth Amendment is a Terry frisk – named after the 1968 case of Terry v. Ohio in which the United States Supreme Court held that a “stop and frisk” may be conducted without violating the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures if 1) the investigatory stop (temporary detention) is lawful, and 2) the officer must reasonably suspect that the person stopped is armed and dangerous.

On January 23, 2017, the Fourth Circuit issued an en blanc decision in United States v. Robinson, a case originating from West Virginia, in which the Court ruled that “armed is therefore dangerous” for Terry frisk purposes.

The two main competing interests in the decision include the government’s interest in protecting officer safety and an individual’s interest in exercising his or her Second Amendment right. It is well recognized by the Courts that officer safety is paramount in permitting an individual to be subjected to a Terry frisk if the two elements are met. On the other hand, individuals enjoy the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, and West Virginia residents, in particular, have the right to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

This decision will likely draw attention from the United States Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court decides this important issue.