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Traffic Stop – Temporary Plate

City of Sheboygan v. Kathy L. Reindl-Knaak, 2011AP1090, District 2, 11/2/11

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Reindl-Knaal: Casey J. Hoff; case activity

¶7        The parties do not dispute that Reindl-Knaak’s vehicle had an expired front license plate, that the temporary plate affixed to the rear of the vehicle was later determined to be valid, and that Jaeger had probable cause to continue Reindl-Knaak’s detention based on the odor of alcohol and her “slow” speech.  The narrow issue on appeal is whether Jaeger had reasonable suspicion to initiate a lawful traffic stop of Reindl-Knaak’s vehicle.  Based on our review of the record, we conclude that he did.

¶13      Given Jaeger’s testimony and the circuit court’s findings, we reject Reindl-Knaak’s attempt to liken this case to State v. Longcore, 2001 WI App 15, 240 Wis. 2d 429, 623 N.W.2d 201, and State v. Lord, 2006 WI 122, 297 Wis. 2d 592, 723 N.W.2d 425.  Unlike the investigatory stop in Longcore, Jaeger’s initial stop of Reindl-Knaak’s vehicle was not based on a mistake of law.  See Longcore, 240 Wis. 2d 429, ¶3 (“an officer who erroneously applies the law to the facts does not have probable cause to believe the law was violated”).  And, consistent with the holding in Lord, Jaeger did not initiate an investigatory stop of Reindl-Knaak’s vehicle for the purpose of verifying registration based solely on the display of temporary license plates.  See Lord, 297 Wis. 2d 592, ¶7.  Rather, Jaeger initiated the stop based on his confirmation that Reindl-Knaak’s vehicle had an expired registration contrary to Wis. Stat. § 341.04(1).  Jaeger did not know at that point that the vehicle was subject to a valid temporary operation plate.

The fact that the temporary plate may have been valid didn’t prevent the officer from conducting the stop, given the officer’s “confirmation that, based on the front license plate, the vehicle registration was expired,” ¶14.

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