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Anonymous tip provided reasonable suspicion for traffic stop

State v. Todd W. Vaughn, 2022AP644-Cr, 9/29/22, District 4 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Vaughn was convicted of operating a vehicle with a PAC, second offense. He claimed that the deputy who stopped him lacked reasonable suspicion because he acted solely on an uncorroborated anonymous tip. The court of appeals held that the tip provided reasonable suspicion for the stop because  it had “indicia of reliability” that were “suitably corroborated” as required by State v. Williams, 2001 WI 21, ¶31, 241
Wis. 2d 631, 623 N.W.2d 106.

Williams requires the circuit court to consider “whether law enforcement is able to verify “innocent details” of the anonymous tip, whether the tipster was an eyewitness contemporaneously reporting observed criminal activity, and whether the tip contained predictive information. Id., ¶¶32-42 (internal quotation marks and quoted source omitted).” (Opinion, ¶4).

Applying those factors, the court of appeals reasoned:

¶7 . . . Prior to stopping the vehicle, the deputy confirmed that the driver was operating a green Mazda Miata convertible as described by the anonymous caller, and that the vehicle was registered to Vaughan, the person the caller identified as operating the vehicle. The 9-1-1 dispatcher told the deputy that, according to the caller, Vaughan had “just dr[iven] all over the golf course,” supporting a reasonable inference that the caller was an eyewitness to criminal activity. This circumstance is relevant to the “totality of the circumstances” analysis because “the fact that the tip … came from an obviously concerned citizen who was witnessing a crime as [he or] she reported it” tends to support the “observational reliability” of the informant. See id., ¶36 & n.12 (internal quotation marks and quoted source omitted). Moreover, and importantly, the tip provided a predictive detail: that Vaughan was en route to Marion. This prediction was borne out by the deputy’s observing Vaughan on one of two possible routes to Marion at the approximate time at which a driver leaving the golf course would reach that location. Thus, the deputy had an objective “means to test the informant’s knowledge or credibility.” See id., ¶42 (internal quotation marks and quoted source omitted).

The court of appeals reached this conclusion even though the deputy was unable to confirm that the Mazada Miata had been in an accident or struck a post. This did not matter because the 9-1-1 dispatcher never told the deputy that the car had been damaged.

Vaughn argued that the location of the car at the time of the stop was not “predictive” because most or all drivers leaving the golf course would travel through Manawa. The court of appeals held this argument “forfeited” because Vaughn didn’t assert it in the circuit court. Plus Vaughn did not provide factual support for it beyond a link to a map of the town of Manawa.  Opinion, ¶10.

The forfeiture holding is incorrect. It is well established that once an appellant raises an issue s/he may raise any argument in support of the issue. In other words, the forfeiture rule applies to issues, not to arguments. See Michael S. Heffernan, Appellate Practice and Procedure in Wisconsin, App. C pg 61 (State Bar of Wisconsin 2012)(citing State v. Weber, 164 Wis. 2d 788, 791, 476 N.W.2d 867 (1991); Harvest Sav. Bank ROI Invs., 209 Wis. 2d 586, 596, 563  N.W.2d 579 (Ct. App. 1997)).

For the difference between “issues” and “arguments” see Weber, 164 Wis. 2d at 789 n.2. An “issue” is a point of law presented for a final determination at the conclusion of a legal proceeding. Here, whether the anonymous tip provides reasonable suspicion per Williams is an issue. An “argument” is a reason given for or against a point of law.  The assertion that the location of the car carried no predictive component is an argument supporting a holding that the anonymous tip did not provide reasonable suspicion per Williams.



{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Anonymous October 13, 2022, 10:53 am

    “That case and countless others after Holland Plastics have reaffirmed that the forfeiture rule focuses on whether particular arguments have been preserved, not on whether general issues were raised before the circuit court. See, e.g., State v. Rogers, 196 Wis.2d 817, 827, 539 N.W.2d 897 (Ct.App.1995) (explaining that the forfeiture rule requires that, to preserve its arguments, a party must “make all of their arguments to the trial court”).” Townsend v. Massey, 2011 WI App 160, ¶25, 338 Wis. 2d 114, 126, 808 N.W.2d 155. How does that holding square with the Heffernan/Weber discussion?

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