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Defense win! Police lacked reasonable suspicion to question driver about whether he had guns and a CCW permit

State v. John Patrick Wright, 2017AP2006-CR, 6/12/18, District 1;(1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication), petition for review granted 10/9/18, reversed 2019 WI 45, case activity (including briefs)

Police stopped Wright’s car because a headlight was out, but they asked him whether he had a concealed carry permit and weapons in the car. He admitted he had a firearm and explained that he had recently completed the CCW course. Too bad. He was arrested and charged with 1 count of carrying a concealed weapon. He moved to suppress on the grounds that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to question him about a CCW permit and weapons.

The circuit court granted Wright’s motion to suppress, and the State appealed arguing that the police had a legitimate safety interest in questioning Wright about whether he had weapons and a permit. The court of appeals affirmed based on State v. Betow, 226 Wis. 2d 90, 93, 593 N.W.2d 499 (Ct. App. 1999)(once officer stops car he may ask driver questions reasonably related to the nature of the stop) and Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015)(authority for traffic seizure ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are, or reasonably should have been, completed):

¶15 . . . [T]he State contends that Sardina’s questions were lawful because they were negligibly burdensome and did not add much time to the traffic stop. The State misses the point. Authority for Sardina’s seizure ended when he reasonably could have issued a citation for Wright’s traffic violation. See Rodriguez, 135 S. Ct. at 1615. Instead of inquiring about the initial purpose of the stop, however, Sardina asked questions completely unrelated to the traffic violation. Wright was questioned and subsequently arrested with absolutely no articulated reason for Sardina to be concerned for officer safety and apparently only because a department “traffic stop question card” “suggested” that Sardina ask about a CCW permit and possession of a gun. The permissible contact and impermissible questions were muddled together and asked in quick succession while Wright was clearly not free to leave.

¶16 Based on the lack of any articulable facts supporting an actual fear that Wright posed a threat to officer safety, we conclude that police impermissibly expanded the scope of Wright’s traffic stop. Sardina’s testimony confirms nothing about the circumstances of the traffic stop or about Wright which justified inquiry about a firearm. The circuit court properly granted Wright’s motion to suppress.

Did you know that with one click of a button you can pull up a list of 37 recent traffic stops found unlawful by the court of appeals? Yep. Step right up and click here. You’ll find many similarly useful category tags on our ridiculously detailed Archive page.

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