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Court of appeals rejects use of collective knowledge doctrine to undercut reasonable suspicion

City of Stevens Point v. Katrina L. Shurpit, Appeal No. 2013AP538, 9/26/13; (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

Shurpit challenged the investigative stop that led to her convictions for operating a vehicle with a prohibited alcohol content and while under the influence of an intoxicant.  A hit-and-run had a occurred in the vicinity a few minutes before her stop.  The dispatcher told the arresting officer that the car involved was gray or green. The computer in the arresting officer’s squad car indicated the vehicle involved was an SUV.  Shurpit’s car was silver or gray, but not an SUV.  The arresting officer testified that she never looked at the computer before the stop.  So Shurpit asserted the collective knowledge doctrine to disprove that the arresting officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop.  The court of appeals rejected her argument:

¶11      . . .  “Under the collective knowledge doctrine, there are situations in which the information in the hands of an entire police department may be imputed to officers on the scene to help establish reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”  State v. Orta, 2000 WI 4, ¶20, 231 Wis. 2d 782, 604 N.W.2d 543.

¶12      Other than a passing reference to United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221 (1985), involving a police flier, Shurpit does not cite any case law applying the collective knowledge doctrine.  She acknowledges that the doctrine is typically used to uphold a determination of reasonable suspicion.  She asserts that the doctrine should also be applied when it undercuts reasonable suspicion because, otherwise, “police departments might be encouraged to omit important descriptive details in communicating with their officers, so as to cast as wide a net as possible for potential suspects.”  This limited policy argument is not logical, at least not as applied here, because the police plainly had an interest in quickly locating the correct suspect.  In other words, there is no reason to think that the dispatcher would have had any incentive to deliberately omit the SUV information, or that the officer would have had any incentive to deliberately ignore it.  Absent additional, more developed argument on the topic, I decline to apply the collective knowledge doctrine.

For earlier posts on the collective knowledge doctrine, click here.  Note, none involve the defense using the doctrine to undercut reasonable suspicion.  That seems to be a novel twist worth further research.

After dispensing with the collective knowledge doctrine, the court of appeals held that the following facts, which were known to the officer, created reasonable suspicion that Shurpit was involved in the hit-and-run:

¶14      . . . Shurpit’s vehicle matched the color description that dispatch had provided to the officer, her vehicle had damage to the rear bumper, the officer encountered her vehicle in the same general area as the hit-and-run vehicle, the encounter occurred within about five minutes of the hit-and-run vehicle’s last sighting, and there were virtually no other vehicles in the area.

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