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Car idling in “highly problematic” area after dark + glassy red eyes = reasonable suspicion

Waupaca County v. Hunter Ja Dean Wheelock, 2022AP860, 11/3/2022 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

An sheriff’s deputy saw Wheelock and another man sitting in a car parked on the side of a dead-end road in Waupaca County. This particular road was apparently in a “highly problematic” are of that county where young men “engage[] in disorderly behavior and underage drug use and drinking parties.” When the deputy pulled up next to the vehicle, he rolled down his window, as did Wheelock. The deputy asked Wheelock and the passenger what they were up to, and they said they were looking for a place to go sledding. The deputy said he observed “glassy, red, and watery eyes.” This, says the court of appeals, was enough for reasonable suspicion (as a result of the stop Wheelock was charged with OWI).

Here, the circuit court’s determination of reasonable suspicion was based on there being two young men sitting after dark in a parked car with the engine running and lights on; the young men were on a dead-end road in an area known by police to be an area in which people of the young men’s age range typically engage in disorderly behavior including alcohol and drug use; both young men exhibited glassy, red, and watery eyes; which, based on the officer’s experience, may indicate being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I conclude that these facts, taken together, suffice to support reasonable suspicion of operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Wheelock analogizes the facts in this case to facts in cases in which courts have invalidated stops as lacking suspicion based solely on the individual’s being in a high-crime area. See Brown v Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 51-52 (1979) (no reasonable suspicion that Brown was engaged in criminal conduct when officers saw him walk away from another man in an area known to be frequented by drug users and the officers did not recognize him); State v. Young, 212 Wis. 2d 417, 430, 569 N.W.2d 84 (Ct. App. 1997) (no reasonable suspicion that Young was engaged in criminal conduct when officer saw him engage in “short-term contact” with another man in an area known for drug trafficking); State v. Diggins, No. 2012AP526-CR, unpublished slip op. at ¶15, (WI App July 30, 2013) (no reasonable suspicion when Diggins, dressed in dark clothing, was seen at night “hanging out” for five minutes in a high-crime neighborhood).



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