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Moving a person 3-4 miles to perform field sobriety tests doesn’t convert traffic stop into arrest

County of Fond Du Lac v. Blade N. Ramthun, 2016AP825, District 2, 10/26/16 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

A deputy stopped Ramthun for speeding and suspected that he had been drinking. Because it was 1:08 a.m. and raining hard on Highway 45, the deputy drove him 3 to 4 miles to a gas station to conduct field sobriety tests. Ramthun argued that his temporary detention and movement violated §968.24, which codifies Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22 (1986).

The court of appeals disagreed. There is no constitutional violation where law enforcement moves the person within the vicinity of the stop, and the purpose of the stop was reasonable. State v. Blatterman, 2015 WI 46, 362, Wis. 2d 138, 864 N.W.2d 26.

¶8 Vicinity means “‘a surrounding area or district’ or ‘locality.’” Blatterman, 362 Wis. 2d 138, ¶25 . . . We have previously concluded that “three to four miles is at the outer limits of the definition of ‘vicinity’ … where the stop occurred in a rural area, and the suspect was transported to the nearest municipality at which the investigation could reasonably take place under the circumstances.” State v. Doyle, No. 2010AP2466-CR, unpublished slip op. ¶13 (WI App. Sept. 22, 2011). Such was the case here. Volm transported Ramthun from a highway in a rural area to a gas station about a seven-minute drive or three to four miles away. See id. Volm testified that there were no other places that were closer; rather, there were places a similar distance away but not as easy a drive. Thus, under these circumstances, we conclude that the gas station was in the vicinity of the stop.

¶9 As for whether there were reasonable grounds to move Ramthun, we have previously noted that “courts have held that the police may move a suspect for reasons of security and safety … [and] for comfort or convenience.” Quartana, 213 Wis. 2d at 447 n.3 (citations omitted); see State v. Krahn, No. 2009AP2406-CR, unpublished slip op. ¶¶11-12 (WI App. Feb. 3, 2010) (concluding that hazardous road and weather conditions necessitated a move to a suitable location to conduct field sobriety tests and for safety). The circuit court concluded that it was reasonable to move Ramthun for his safety and that of Volm, as a courtesy to Ramthun, and to ensure that the field sobriety tests were fairly administered.

Moving a person 1 mile (i.e. within walking distance of the stop) is fine. See Quartana here. Moving him 10 miles is too far. See our post on Blatterman here. So the constitutional line appears to be 3 or 4 miles. If that’s the case, why isn’t the court of appeals publishing the opinions that say so?

How the court of appeals determined there were “reasonable grounds” to move Ramthun is also noteworthy. Apparently the video of the stop was not presented at the suppression hearing. It was entered into evidence at trial. The court of appeals relied on the video to uphold the trial court’s suppression decision. That is generally permissible under  State v. Truax, 151 Wis. 2d 354, 360, 444 N.W.2d 432 (Ct. App. 1989). But in this case the parties’ appellate briefs don’t discuss the video. The court of appeals nevertheless watched it and arguably “found facts” to support the denial of Ramthun’s suppression motion. Wurtz v. Fleischman, 97 Wis. 2d 100, 109, 293 N.W.2d 155 (1980)(court of appeals may not make findings of fact). See if you agree:

¶10 Ramthun complains that the circuit court’s finding that Ramthun was transported as a safety measure was clearly erroneous because there was no proof about the lighting conditions at the stop, the traffic, or the size of the road’s shoulder. But, as we have noted, we have reviewed the video. We can see that the road on which Ramthun was stopped appears to have one lane of travel running in each direction. There is a shoulder on the side of road where Volm pulled over Ramthun. The shoulder is slightly wider than the width of Ramthun’s vehicle. There are no street lights near the stop. An occasional car can be seen passing. The weather, as Volm testified to and we have observed in the video, was a steady downfall of rain. To administer field sobriety tests, such as a walk-and-turn test, under these conditions with a suspect who appeared intoxicated could have posed a danger to Ramthun and Volm. See generally WIS. STAT. § 346.072(1m)(b) (recognizing the danger posed to an emergency or road side service worker by requiring that where there is only one lane of traffic, vehicles passing an emergency or roadside service vehicle are required to travel at a reduced speed).

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