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Automobile Search – Probable Cause – Burglary

State v. Edward C. Lefler2013 WI App 22; case activity

Probable cause found to search trunk of vehicle for evidence of burglary-related crimes, after an indisputably lawful stop for drunk driving:

¶11      …  “If probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully stopped vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search.”  United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 825 (1982). There is no dispute that Lefler’s vehicle was lawfully stopped.  Ross allows a search of the vehicle’s trunk if probable cause exists to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime and that evidence is capable of being concealed in the trunk.

¶12      The elements required for a conviction for possession of burglarious tools are:  (1) possession of a tool or device, (2) the tool or device is suitable for use in breaking into a building, and (3) intent to break into a building and steal movable property.  Wis JI—Criminal 1431.  Tools suitable for breaking into a building include “common” tools.  Id.  Based on the testimony at the suppression hearing from the officer who arrested Lefler, the officer had sufficient evidence against Lefler on two of the three elements for possession of burglarious tools after spotting the “prying-type” tools on Lefler and in plain view within his vehicle.

¶13      In addition, Lefler was a known suspect in recent burglaries.  The officer had prior dealings with Lefler and believed that Lefler had monetary issues that would motivate him to commit the burglaries.  The officer also knew that Lefler was not employed in an occupation that would require him to possess such tools, and he had reason to doubt the story that Lefler gave him for why he was carrying such tools late at night.  Considering the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person could have an honest belief that evidence of burglary-related crimes might be found in Lefler’s vehicle.  Therefore, the officer had probable cause to search Lefler’s trunk, and the circuit court was correct in declining to suppress evidence recovered as a result of the lawful search.  See State v. Baudhuin, 141 Wis. 2d 642, 648, 416 N.W.2d 60 (1987) (a correct holding should be sustained on appeal, even on a theory not presented to the circuit court).

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