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Defense Win! Driving on road “closed to through traffic” insufficient to justify traffic stop

Town of Dunn v. Brian S. LaFleur, 2023AP1529-1531, 5/23/24, District IV (1-judge opinion, not eligible for publication); case activity

LaFleur was stopped after driving on a road that was marked “closed to through traffic” because his vehicle was registered to an address outside of the area. After the circuit court granted LaFleur’s motion to suppress, the Town appealed. The court of appeals affirms and agrees with the circuit court that the Town’s position would “impose too great of a burden on the Fourth Amendment rights” of non-local drivers using a road closed to through traffic for lawful purposes. Op., ¶16

As noted by the court of appeals, the Town’s argument on appeal “has several weaknesses.” Op., ¶12. First, the fact that LaFleur’s car was registered to a non-local address does not support an inference that he was using the road unlawfully. While the officer observed LaFleur exit the closed road, the officer did not observe whether LaFleur had come from a location on the road, which would have constituted lawful use. The court notes that the stretch of close road, while rural, included “residences, farms, at least one business, and a church” that LaFleur might have been visiting. Op., ¶13.

Second, the Town argues it was suspicious that LaFleur existed the road at the “end” of the road closure instead of at one of “6 different places along the closed area for vehicles to exit…” The court sees no such suspicion and faults the Town for failing to explain why LaFleur’s use of one exit instead of another was in any way indicative of his unlawful use of the road. Third, the court likewise rejects the Town’s use of the “time of day” as a suspicious factor because “no evidence suggested that a driver may be more likely to use the road as a thoroughfare on a Saturday evening than at another time.” Op., ¶15.

Finally, the Town fails to distinguish State v. Swiecichowski, which while unpublished, the court finds persuasive in support of the circuit court’s decision. There, a car entered a road closed to through traffic and the car was registered to a non-local driver. In both cases, no reasonable suspicion exists to stop a driver operating a vehicle on a road closed to through traffic unless evidence is introduced showing the officer’s suspicion is anything more than a hunch that the driver may not be lawfully using the road.

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