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NM Police May Remove Guns in Cars During Traffic Stops

In an appeal by convicted felon Gregory Ketelson, the New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that police may remove guns in cars during a traffic stop even in the absence of reasonable suspicion.

Citing officer safety, the court appears to contradict the more traditional notions of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and a citizen's right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

The ruling stems from an incident in 2008 when police pulled over Gregory Ketelson for driving with an expired license plate, reports the Associated Press.

Officers, noticing that he had a handgun on his backseat floorboard, removed the gun while running a license check.

Ketelson challenged the removal of the gun from his car as an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

Ordinarily, warrantless vehicle searches of persons who have not been arrested can only occur if an officer has reasonable suspicion that the car's driver or passengers may be armed and dangerous.

The New Mexico Supreme Court concluded that, when officers are confronted with guns in cars, removal, even absent particularized suspicion, is still "reasonable and a minimal intrusion, which does not outweigh legitimate concerns of officer safety."

Even though the court is saying that officers do not need to suspect that a vehicle occupant is dangerous when he is visibly armed, it's important to understand that access to a firearm makes a person inherently dangerous to officers.

In fact, the reason that this exception to warrantless vehicle searches even exists is to protect officer safety during traffic stops, meaning that this 'guns in cars' decision may be more in line with prior jurisprudence than Gregory Ketelson and the NRA seem to imply.

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