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Reasonable Suspicion – Basis – Traffic Stop – Vehicle’s Owner Known to Have Revoked License

State v. Frank C. Newer, 2007 WI App 236, PFR filed 11/8/07prior history: Certification, 8/8/07, denied, 9/10/07
For Newer: Francis R. Lettenberger

Issue/Holding: The police have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle whose owner’s DL is known to have been revoked, given no reason to think someone other than the owner is behind the wheel:

¶2    We now reverse the circuit court’s suppression of the evidence and remand for further proceedings. We adopt the view articulated by the supreme court of Minnesota in State v. Pike, 551 N.W.2d 919, 922 (Minn. 1996): that an officer’s knowledge that a vehicle’s owner’s license is revoked will support reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop so long as the officer remains unaware of any facts that would suggest that the owner is not driving. Because we uphold the stop on these grounds, we do not address the alternative grounds proffered by the State.

¶9    Here, the officer did not observe the driver of the vehicle and had no reason to think that it was anyone other than the vehicle’s owner at any time during the stop. The officer was entitled to rely on the reasonable assumption that the owner of a vehicle is most likely the driver. [4]

 [4] We also reject Newer’s attempt to analogize this case to State v. Lord, 2006 WI 122, 297 Wis. 2d 592, 723 N.W.2d 425. Lord stands for the proposition that an officer does not have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle merely because it is displaying temporary tags in accordance with the law of this state. Id., ¶7. The Lord court relied on Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979), in which the Supreme Court rejected stops merely to determine whether a vehicle is properly registered. Lord, 297 Wis. 2d 592, ¶4. The Lord court did not address a situation like this one, in which a reasonable assumption of lawbreaking can be drawn from the circumstances. Id.


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