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Traffic Stop

County of Sheboygan v. William M. Lane, 2010AP1756, District 2, 2/2/11

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Lane: George Limbeck; case activity; State BiCLane Resp.

¶6        As a threshold matter, the County addresses the proper test for assessing the validity of the traffic stop.  The County contends that the appropriate standard is “reasonable suspicion” as opposed to “probable cause.”  We disagree.  When an officer is acting upon an observation of a traffic violation committed in his or her presence and is not acting upon a suspicion warranting further investigation, the appropriate test is whether the officer had probable cause to believe that a law has been broken.  State v. Longcore, 226 Wis. 2d 1, 8-9, 594 N.W.2d 412 (Ct. App. 1999), aff’d by an equally divided court, 2000 WI 23, 233 Wis. 2d 278, 607 N.W.2d 620.  Because Wimmer stopped Lane’s vehicle based on his belief that Lane had committed a traffic violation, the question is whether the facts observed by Wimmer constituted probable cause that Lane violated Wis. Stat. § 346.57.

Longcore itself contrasts a traffic offense commited in the officer’s presence with “the situation where the officer does not know what particular offense may have been committed. See State v. Anderson, 155 Wis. 2d 77, 84, 454 N.W.2d 763, 766 (1990) (‘[S]uspicious conduct by its very nature is ambiguous, and the principle [sic] function of the investigative stop is to quickly resolve that ambiguity.’).” Useful distinction, well worth keeping in mind. But ultimately not one that avails Lane, whose stop for driving through a “roundabout” too fast for the conditions, § 346.57, was supported by probable cause. Win the battle, lose the war:

¶10      Here, Wimmer observed Lane enter the roundabouts with no or “very little” braking.  While Wimmer testified that he did not observe other traffic in the area, this does little to negate Lane’s obligation to slow down for a period of time sufficient to ascertain that the intersection is clear.  Once in the roundabout, Wimmer described Lane as “apexing the curve,” stating at one point that Lane “Mario Andretti’d the corner.”  Lane’s counsel also compared the maneuver to a “racer’s corner” or “racer’s line,” which he described as “driving as straight a line through a corner as you can.”  Finally, Wimmer, who worked frequently in the area of the roundabouts, felt that Lane entered the roundabout at a high rate of speed.  In pursuing Lane, Wimmer felt that even he, in his “pursuit certified patrol vehicle,” was “unable to go through the roundabout in a safe and efficient manner” at the speed Lane was traveling.

¶11      In sum, Wimmer saw Lane enter the roundabout without yielding or sufficiently yielding to observe potential traffic, and then witnessed Lane proceed through the roundabout at approximately forty-five miles per hour by straddling lanes and taking a “racer’s corner.”  Although the posted speed limit on Highway 42 leading up to the roundabout is forty-five miles per hour, the speed limit posted in conjunction with the roundabout warning sign was fifteen miles per hour.  Based on these observations, which the circuit court accepted as credible, Wimmer stopped Lane and issued a warning for driving too fast for conditions.

Mario Andretti’d? Well, Road America( Elhart Lake ) – “known for the best auto racing in the Midwest” – is situated in Sheboygan County. No surprise, then, the colorful neologism; or its old school flavor. Less piquantly but possibly of greater interest to lawyers: the court relies on DOT publications (posted on its Web site), to the effect that roundabouts are designed to reduce speeds to 25-20 mph in urban settings, 25-30 in rural ones, ¶9.

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