Pennsylvania v. Mimms (1977) 434 US 106

Traffic Stop; Ordering Occupants Out; Terry Frisk

Two police officers spotted respondent driving a vehicle with an expired license plate. The officers stopped the vehicle and asked respondent to step out of the car and produce his license. When respondent exited the vehicle, the officer noticed a large bulge under his sports jacket. Fearing that the bulge may be a weapon, the officer conducted a “pat down” search and discovered a revolver in his waistband. Upon a grant of certiorari, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the state supreme court. The Supreme Court found that respondent was legitimately stopped by the police in order for them to issue him a traffic summons. The fact that respondent was ordered out of his car was only a de minimis intrusion on his freedom. The police had already decided to briefly detain respondent, whether it was inside or outside of the car was irrelevant. The Supreme Court found that the police officer was justified in conducting a limited search of respondent’s person for weapons once he reasonably concluded that respondent, who had been legitimately stopped, might be armed. Under these circumstances, any person of reasonable caution would have searched respondent.