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Reasonable Suspicion — Stop — Duration — Traffic Offense — Running Warrant Check on Passenger, After Purpose of Stop Resolved

State v. Christopher Gammons, 2001 WI App 36
For Gammons: Keith A. Findley, LAIP

Issue: Whether, following stop of a car which seemed not to have plates, identification-related investigation of passenger is permissible once the officer discovers proof (display of temporary sticker) that there is in fact no apparent violation of registration laws.

Holding: A lawful stop doesn’t become an unreasonable seizure merely because the officer asks for the passenger’s identification. ¶12, relying on State v. Griffith, 2000 WI 72, 236 Wis. 2d 48, 613 N.W.2d 72.

Note, however, existence of a split of authority on whether the police may indeed ask to see a driver’s license if the basis for the stop dissipates before the actual encounter. See, e.g., Meredith v. State, Ind App No. 89A04-0703-CR-148, 12/28/07, following United States v. McSwain, 29 F.3d 558 (10th Cir. 1994) (“once Officer Lackey had verified the valid expiration date on the temporary tag, and prior to any personal contact with Meredith, the objective purpose for the investigative detention had been satisfied”); U.S. v. Edgerton, 10th Cir No. 05-3167, 2/22/06 (similar: when cop sees that car in fact displays temporary tag then purpose of stop dissipates and can’t ask for license / registration information or otherwise question driver); and State v. Johnny Diaz, 850 So. 2d 435 (Fl. 2003), collecting cases on this split (same: stop to check out validity of temporary plate; upon approach, officer discerned that plate was in fact valid, and the authority to continue the detention, even for the purpose of asking to see the driver’s license, terminated):

Permitting an officer to further detain and interrogate a motorist, after the officer is fully satisfied that the motorist has not committed a violation of the laws of the State of Florida, violates the precepts established in Prouse and Royer. Having verified the total validity of Mr. Diaz’s temporary tag, the sheriff’s deputy could lawfully make personal contact with Mr. Diaz only to explain to him the reason for the initial stop. Because the sheriff’s deputy had no justification for further detention, anything more than an explanation of the stop was a violation of Mr. Diaz’s Fourth Amendment rights.

But compare U.S. v. Kirksey, 7th Cir No. 06-2854, 5/10/07 (Edgerton line of cases narrowly limited to instances where reasonable suspicion immediately dispelled; matching VIN didn’t obviate need to further investigate smudged plate).Gammons in effect assumes that the stop was lawful even though there was in fact no traffic violation. Whether this approach eventually prevails over Diaz, it should not be extended to one where the stop is based on erroneous, police-generated information, State v. Allen, 269 Neb. 69, 77, 1/7/05 (as distinguished from erroneous, court-generated information, Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1 (1995)):

This is not a case in which police possess factual information supporting a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity which, upon further investigation, proves to be unfounded. Here, there was no factual foundation for the information which the dispatcher transmitted to Sautter, as it is undisputed that the information was false due to the dispatcher’s mistake in running the wrong license plate number. Sautter had no other reason for initiating the stop. Thus, the record reflects that neither Sautter nor any other law enforcement personnel possessed any true fact which would support the reasonable suspicion necessary to justify an investigative stop. The stop was therefore an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.


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