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Objective facts justified officer’s contact with driver

State v. Marie A. Martin, 2016AP913-CR, District 1, 12/20/16 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

A police officer’s contact with the driver of a car idling in a parking lot at 2:00 a.m. was lawful because the objective facts justified a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

The officer had done a registration check of the car and a license check of the car’s owner and learned the registration was suspended and the owner had an occupational license that didn’t allow her to drive at 2:00 a.m. (¶2). While the officer described her purpose in contacting the driver as a welfare check (¶4), the officer’s subjective motivation isn’t what determines the lawfulness of the contact; rather, the question is whether there were objective facts supporting the conclusion the driver committed, was committing, or was about to commit, a crime. State v. Post, 2007 WI 60, ¶¶10, 13, 301 Wis. 2d 1, 733 N.W.2d 634 (2007); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22 (1968). There were such facts here:

¶15     …[W]e conclude that the record shows facts that objectively create reasonable suspicion that Martin was about to commit a crime. The officer knew that Martin had been dropped off with another person who had entered her car and left the parking lot. The officer knew that it was 2:00 a.m., and Martin was seated in the driver’s seat of her running vehicle, with the headlights on, for approximately ten minutes by the time the officer approached her. The officer knew Martin’s vehicle registration was suspended, her driving license privileges were revoked, and her occupational license was ineffective at that hour of day. The officer knew that the only way out of the parking lot was to exit onto city streets where driving after revocation was a crime. There was nowhere else for Martin to drive her already-running vehicle to. Thus, at the point that the officer approached Martin in her car to talk to her, when the seizure was made, the officer had reasonable suspicion under Post and Terry.

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