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Officer’s driving didn’t create reasonable suspicion to stop driver

Marquette County v. Matthew J. Owens, 2016AP2176, District 4, 6/15/17 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Owens argues that a police officer’s driving was so careless or unlawful that it required Owens to react in a way that created reasonable suspicion to stop him. Not so, says the court of appeals.

The officer was driving behind Owens when he activated his emergency lights to stop the car driving in front of Owens. Almost simultaneously Owens put on his left turn signal. But the officer thought that in response to his lights Owens had begun to move to the right to let him pass, and so moved left to pass—just as Owens executed his left turn, causing the officer to brake “pretty hard” to avoid a collision. The officer then stopped Owens. (¶¶3-5). The officer’s driving didn’t render the stop unreasonable:

¶14     …Owens appears to believe that the officer’s driving behavior placed Owens in an untenable position in which anything that Owens did would appear suspicious. I disagree. Under the circumstances, Owens had reasonable choices other than executing his signaled left turn. He could have deactivated his left turn signal and moved some distance to the right, or he could have reduced his speed and continued moving forward for at least a few moments longer. In neither instance would Owens’ conduct have created reasonable suspicion.

The officer stopped Owens believing he had violated § 346.19, which requires drivers to yield to the right in response to emergency vehicles. (¶3) But that statute requires the emergency vehicle to have sounded its siren, which the officer didn’t do here, so the County argued there was reasonable suspicion Owens violated § 346.04(2t), which requires a vehicle to stop “as promptly as safety reasonably permits” when a siren or lights are activated. (¶6) While Owens also argues there wasn’t reasonable suspicion to believe he violated that statute, the court rejects the argument as undeveloped. (¶9).

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