Pennsylvania v. Mimms

PETITIONER: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
RESPONDENT: Harry Mimms
LOCATION: Department of Social Services of the City of New York

DOCKET NO.: 76-1830
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

CITATION: 434 US 106 (1977)
DECIDED: Dec 05, 1977

Facts of the case

This case arose when two Philadelphia police officers pulled over the defendant, Harry Mimms, for driving with an expired license plate. After asking Mimms to exit the car, the officers noticed an unusual bulge underneath his jacket. One of the officers searched Mimms and discovered a loaded .38-caliber revolver. Mimms was charged with carrying a concealed deadly weapon and unlawfully carrying a firearm without a license. He was convicted on both counts at trial after his motion to suppress the revolver was denied.

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the conviction, holding that the officers' request for Mimms to exit the vehicle was an unlawful "seizure" in violation of the Fourth Amendment. According to the court, the officer could not point to any "objective observable facts to support a suspicion that criminal activity was afoot or that the occupants of the vehicle posed a threat to police safety" sufficient to warrant ordering Mimms to step out of the car. Therefore, the officers should never have noticed the bulge and the search should never have taken place.

Question

Do police officers violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unlawful searches and seizures when, during a routine traffic stop, they obtain evidence through a search conducted after asking the suspect to exit the vehicle without a justifiable reason to do so?