Monday, December 1, 2008

Michigan Concealed Pistol License: Traffic Stops

Drivers with Concealed Pistol Licenses have certain statutorily defined duties to perform when pulled over by law enforcement officers (LEO) in the state of Michigan. Since there are no uniform state-wide procedures for LEOs when this situation happens, an uncertain environment exists where one misstep by either party has the potential for causing a disaster.

For example, on December 13th of 2007, the Detroit Free Press newspaper reported that the Detroit City Council had recently approved a $480,000 settlement payout to a survivor of a traffic stop conducted by a Detroit police officer.

Apparently, Mr. Melvin Rivers, a 63 year old male CPL licensee was shot - twice in the stomach and once in the chest - when the officer noticed a handgun resting atop the empty front passenger seat. Reportedly, Mr. Rivers had argued in his lawsuit that he had informed the officer that he had a CPL and at no time reached for or moved toward his firearm.

This article will specify a motorist's statutorily defined duties during traffic stops and suggest a few tips to minimize the chances of a mishap caused by uncertainty.

First, when directed to pull over by LEO a driver should carefully maneuver his vehicle through traffic to safely park his vehicle. Once the vehicle is stationary, the driver should turn off the engine. If the traffic stop occurs after dark, the driver should park in a well lit location and turn on the vehicle's interior lights.

Once this has been accomplished the driver should slowly but deliberately assemble the documentation that the LEO will most likely want to see: Driver's License, Vehicle Registration, Proof Of Insurance, AND the Michigan Concealed Pistol License (CPL). The documentation should physically be in the hand closest to the window while both hands are positioned on the steering wheel at the "10 and 2" positions. If the driver has a handgun in the vehicle, it should be positioned out of view so that it doesn't "spook" the officer.

Drivers with CPLs, who are not armed, do not have a duty to inform the officer that they do not have a loaded handgun in their car. However, since their CPL statuses are connected to both their vehicle's registrations and their Driver's Licenses, it is a good idea to immediately disclose that fact to the officer when he approaches the vehicle. Further, if the driver is armed, he has a legal duty to inform the officer that he has a CPL AND has a gun in his possession.

The Michigan CPL statute authorizes the officer to temporarily take possession of the driver's firearm for the duration of the stop, if he so desires. After the stop has concluded the police officer must return it back to the driver. If the police officer wants to see the gun or take possession of it, the traffic stop gets interesting. At this point, the driver may want to question the officer as to how he would like for the firearm to be produced.

Caution: The driver should not do anything until he has verified that all police officers present - the one talking to him and any others who may present behind him - know that he will be drawing a gun. Failure to do so may result in a horrific incident.

Traffic stops are further complicated when the officer wants to take possession of the handgun. A firearm owner who has had gun safety training knows that he is not supposed to give a loaded handgun to anyone: the magazine should be removed and the action should be opened to verify that the gun is cleared.

A driver attempting to do this could have his actions misinterpreted. On the other hand, if he hands over the loaded gun to the officer in this highly stressed environment an accident is just waiting to occur - an accidental or negligent discharge.

In essence, the traffic stop language as defined in PA 381 of 2000, was poorly crafted and is a disaster waiting to happen. At a bare minimum, the state of Michigan's chief law enforcement training agency - MCOLES - should craft state-wide procedures to handle traffic stops involving CPL licensees and LEOs.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Michigan CPL law should be changed such that police officers are not allowed to take possession of the CPL licensee's handgun. The police officer is not made any safer when given a gun by a law-abiding CPL licensee. In fact, earlier that day, that very same officer may have written a ticket to a person illegally carrying a concealed weapon and didn't know it.
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