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Officer had reasonable suspicion to detain driver for field sobriety tests

State v. Sarah Ann Wallk, 2017AP61, Distirct 1, 9/26/17 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

The court of appeals rejects Wallk’s claim that there was insufficient reasonable suspicion to detain her for field sobriety tests after she was stopped for speeding. 

The officer approached Wallk’s stopped car on the passenger side, but didn’t speak to the two passengers in the car. After detecting an odor of alcohol from inside the car the officer moved to the driver’s side and asked Wallk if she had been drinking. She admitted having two drinks with dinner a few hours earlier, so the officer asked her to do field sobriety tests. She failed the tests and then refused to submit to a preliminary breath test. (¶¶2-4).

She argues that the only basis the officer had to detain her was her admission she had two drinks, as the odor of alcohol could have come from the passengers. (¶15). Not so, says the court:

¶16     …. [W]here specific articulable facts give rise to suspicion, an officer has the right to investigate “notwithstanding the existence of other innocent inferences that could be drawn.” [State v. Waldner, 206 Wis. 2d 51, 60, 556 N.W.2d 681 (1996).] That is the case here. The odor of intoxicants and the admission from the driver of drinking earlier in the evening was “information [discovered] subsequent to the initial stop[.]” This information, “[c]ombined with information already acquired”—namely, the fact that the driver was speeding at 2:22 a.m.—created “a reasonable inference of unlawful conduct [that] can be objectively discerned.” See id. Therefore reasonable suspicion existed to continue the detention of Wallk for field sobriety tests. We therefore affirm the circuit court’s order finding Wallk’s refusal unreasonable.

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