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Wisconsin Appeals Court: Cop Stop Justified by Mystery Object

February 1, 2010

Wisconsin Appeals Court: Cop Stop Justified by Mystery Object
Wisconsin Appeals Court rules that police do not need to be able to articulate the reason for a traffic stop in court. 

Judge Harry G. SnyderPolice officers may pull over any motorist as long as they testify to having seen “something” block the driver’s view — even if the officers are unable to back up the claim in court. In a ruling handed down Wednesday, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld Wisconsin State Trooper Kyle Amlong’s May 14, 2008 traffic stop of motorist Daniel J. Holm. Amlong said that there was an obstruction in Holm’s front window, but he was unable to describe the purpose of the stop under cross-examination. From the court transcript:

[Defense counsel]: [W]hen you say you saw an obstruction in the car… what do you remember seeing?

[Amlong]: A violation of the Wisconsin state statute that prohibits a view obstruction.

[Defense counsel]: So, you don’t know what you saw?

[Amlong]: At this point, no, I don’t recall.

[Defense counsel]: Okay. All you know is that you saw an obstruction?

[Amlong]: Correct.

[Defense counsel]: So, you can’t describe… any possibilities of what it may have been that was obstructing?

[Amlong]: No.

Given the vague nature of the accusation, Holm’s defense counsel objected to the evidence. The court disagreed, insisting that the officer had “specific, articulable facts giving rise to reasonable suspicion” — even if he was unable to articulate the facts in court. The claim of an apparent obstruction of the windshield justified an investigatory stop.

“The state responds that Holm is arguing for a requirement that officers remember the exact item obstructing a view so that a description can be provided at subsequent proceedings,” Judge Harry G. Snyder wrote in his opinion. “It asserts that there is no law to support Holm’s proposition. We agree. The law requires ‘specific, articulable facts’ to support reasonable suspicion for an investigative stop.”

Because the stop was justified, Snyder upheld the subsequent finding that Holm was in possession of marijuana and had been driving under its influence.

A copy of the unpublished decision is available in a 35k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Wisconsin v. Holm (Court of Appeal, State of Wisconsin, 1/27/2010)

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