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Defense win! Driving near scene of crime does not create reasonable suspicion for stop

State v. Brady R. Adams, 2018AP174-CR, 1/15/19, District 3 (1-judge, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Noting that no Wisconsin precedent addresses the issue in this case, the court of appeals follows United States v. Bohman, 683 F.3d 861 (7th Cir. 2012) and holds that the suspicion of illegal activity in a place is not enough to transfer that suspicion to anyone who leaves that place such as would justify an investigatory detention.

A deputy was searching for a suspect who fled a traffic stop when Adams drove nearby. The deputy followed Adams and saw him stop, turn around and head toward the scene of the stop. From this, the deputy surmised that Adams was trying to find the suspect to help him escape. He stopped Adams and obtained sufficient evidence to arrest him for OWI, carrying an unauthorized, concealed weapon, and possession of a firearm while intoxicated. Adams moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the stop and lost.

Relying on Bohman, a case neither party cited, the court of appeals reversed. Bohman held that police could not stop a vehicle merely because it emerged from a site suspected of drug activity:

¶15 We conclude that Hujet’s stop of Adams’s vehicle warrants the same outcome as Bohman. Hujet stopped Adams because he was driving in an area containing an at-large suspect, similar to Bohman being stopped within the vicinity of known illegal drug activity. Adams was also driving late at night in a secluded area, and exhibited some unusual, but legal, driving activity. Hujet transferred the reasonable suspicion of criminal activity attributed to the fleeing suspect onto Adams simply because he was driving within the search area, with Hujet having no knowledge of a connection between the fleeing suspect and Adams. We determine that these circumstances are similar to how the deputies in Bohman transferred their suspicion of criminal activity onto Bohman only because he left a suspected methamphetamine cooking site. Accordingly, like the Seventh Circuit in Bohman, we are persuaded that Hujet’s stop of Adams was constitutionally impermissible. We therefore reverse Adams’s judgment of conviction and remand the matter to the circuit court with directions to suppress the evidence obtained from Adams’s traffic stop.

There are a number of analogous Wisconsin cases holding that a person’s presence in an area of suspected illegal activity does not give rise to a reasonable, particularized suspicion that he is committing a crime. See e.g. State v. Cummings, and lots of cases under the “high crime areas” category on our Archive page.

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