Having been made aware of District Attorney Devon Anderson’s advisory opinion to law enforcement officers [below], it appears the debate is alive and well. Whether or not a police officer may stop a citizen engaged in open carry to check for a license is a very real question.
First and foremost, nothing in the open carry statute authorizes an officer to detain a citizen to determine if they have a license. The ability of a law-abiding citizen to lawfully open carry a handgun does not forego the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
While Ms. Anderson is correct that an officer may approach any individual in a consensual encounter, citizens are generally free to decline the encounter and walk away. The Supreme Court has consistently held that a person’s refusal to cooperate with a police request during a consensual encounter cannot, by itself, provide the basis for a detention.[i]
Her position that anything short of voluntary compliance with the officer’s inquiry should be reasonable suspicion to believe the person is illegally possessing the gun is perhaps too broad. Anderson cites Chiarini v. State for the proposition that courts have routinely permitted law enforcement officers to approach and detain those individuals observed to be in possession of a handgun. Recognizing that Chiarini was decided prior to the open carry law, we note that observation of a handgun may no longer carry the same connotation of illegal conduct.
There are three types of police-citizen inter-actions: (1) consensual encounters that do not implicate the Fourth Amendment; (2) investigative detentions that are Fourth Amendment seizures of limited scope and duration that must be supported by a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity; and (3) arrests, the most intrusive of Fourth Amendment seizures, that are reasonable only if supported by probable cause. Police officers are as free as any other citizen to approach citizens to ask for information or cooperation. Such consensual encounters may be uncomfortable for a citizen, but they are not Fourth Amendment seizures. However, investigative detentions go beyond the consensual encounter and impact the Fourth Amendment rights of citizens.
Ms. Anderson’s position that declining the officer’s inquiry should be reasonable suspicion to justify an investigative detention discounts the necessity for reasonable suspicion. If declining an officer’s inquiry amounts to reasonable suspicion, then a citizen could never resist an officer’s inquiry. Consistent with Supreme Court opinions, an officer may only detain (stop) someone when the officer has specific, articulable, and individualized facts to make it reasonable to suspect that the person may be committing a crime.
In any event, if an officer does detain a citizen solely for engaging in open carry, that detention must be brief and limited to determining whether or not the citizen has a license to carry.
HCCLA will encourage lawyers to challenge the validity of any detention that fails to comply with the long established constitutional requirements governing the seizure of citizens. Though an officer may engage in a consensual encounter with any person regardless of their choice to open carry, nothing in the statute divests an otherwise law-abiding citizen of his or her constitutional rights. Generally, citizens may decline the consensual encounter and expect law enforcement to meet reasonable suspicion standards prior to their detention.
Much like a drivers license is required to legally operate a motor vehicle on our Texas roadways, a license is required to carry a handgun both openly and concealed. Law enforcement does not stop every vehicle operator to present his or her license. Why would they stop every open carry citizen?
Instead, it sounds as though Devon Anderson doesn’t support the Republican platform for open carry. While the Governor preaches liberty, Ms. Anderson wants to usher in an era of “papers please.” This is not what one expects in a free society. Ms. Anderson must accept that elections have consequences and the peoples elected legislature has spoken and approved open carry throughout Texas and Harris County.
[i] Wade v. State, 422 S.W.3d 661, 664-665 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013), citing Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 437, 111 S. Ct. 2382, 115 L. Ed. 2d 389 (1991) (“[A] refusal to cooperate, without more, does not furnish the minimal level of objective justification needed for a detention or seizure.”); Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 498, 103 S. Ct. 1319, 75 L. Ed. 2d 229 (1983) (plurality op.) (a suspect’s refusal to listen or answer a police officer’s questions in a non-seizure circumstance “does not, without more, furnish” the officers with reasonable suspicion for a seizure.).
View and Download Devon Anderson’s Advisory Opinion Here