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COA upholds traffic stop based on broken taillight

State v. Kevin A. Terry, 2023AP1053-CR, 1/31/24, District II (1-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

In yet another “broken taillight” OWI, COA holds that the officer had reasonable suspicion to seize Terry based on a relatively minor vehicle malfunction.

Terry appeals the circuit court’s order denying his motion to suppress in this OWI appeal. (¶2). According to the arresting officer, he stopped Terry because his taillight appeared to have a “white light” emanating from it. (¶3). Upon closer inspection, the taillight had a small crack that had been repaired with red tape. (¶4). At the hearing, there was ample dispute as to whether the video corroborated the deputy’s observations, with the officer ultimately testifying that it appeared more white in person than what was captured on video. (¶7). After multiple viewings, the court was able to notice the white light and sided with the officer. (¶8).

On appeal, Terry concedes that a portion of the taillight may have been white. (¶11). Yet, he argues the taillight was nevertheless in “good working order” and properly emitting (some quantum) of red, rather than white, light. (Id.). COA however, finds that Terry’s concession dooms his appeal given § 347.02(2)(b), which prohibits “any color of light other than red on the rear.” (¶12). That traffic violation is sufficient to justify the stop here. (Id.). While Terry labors mightily to persuade COA that the circuit court’s finding on this point was clearly erroneous, COA is unpersuaded by those arguments (especially in light of Terry’s concession) and affirms. (¶17).

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