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COA: officer had reasonable suspicion of OWI for stop

State v. Christopher J. Vaaler, 2019AP2174, 8/6/20, District 4 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

An officer pulled Vaaler over in the very early morning for not having his headlights on. Per the court of appeals, Vaaler’s unusual manner of speech, the odor of intoxicants, and the fact of an open beer next to him were enough for the officer to conduct the OWI investigation that ultimately led to Vaaler’s arrest and conviction:

One indicia that Vaaler was driving while intoxicated was the odor of intoxicants emanating from Vaaler’s vehicle. See, e.g., State v. Krause, 168 Wis. 2d 578, 587-88, 484 N.W.2d 347 (Ct. App. 1992) (stating that the odor of an intoxicant was a basis for reasonable suspicion of OWI). Additional factors include that: (1) Vaaler was driving without the vehicle’s headlights on at 2:40 a.m., which is commonly known as “bar time”; (2) there was an open can of beer in the vehicle within Vaaler’s reach; and (3) Vaaler hesitated when answering the deputy’s questions, which Anderson’s training and experience caused Anderson to believe that Vaaler was lying….

Vaaler relies on a number of cases for the proposition that the facts present here do not amount to reasonable suspicion that Vaaler was operating a vehicle while intoxicated. However, the facts in the present case distinguish these circumstances from the facts in the cases relied upon by Vaaler.

Finally, Vaaler asserts that Anderson had no reason to doubt the passenger’s statement that the open beer belonged to her and, further, that Anderson testified that he believed the passenger’s statement that the open beer was hers and, therefore, “could not have reasonably relied upon [the beer’s] presence … to support a reasonable suspicion” that Vaaler was driving while intoxicated. However, I reject those arguments for the following reasons. First, the test for whether there is a reasonable suspicion is an objective test, not a subjective one, and, therefore, Anderson’s subjective beliefs are not controlling. Second, reasonable suspicion exists even if there could be an alternative explanation for a factor, and a reasonable officer is required to consider independent factors in the aggregate.

(¶¶16-18 (citations omitted)).

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