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Rookie cop’s mistake in reading results of registration check didn’t invalidate stop given other facts showing reasonable suspicion

State v. Anthony Francen Harris, 2019AP1908-CR, District 3, 7/30/21 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Police stopped the car Harris was driving in part because Skenandore, an officer-in-training, misread the data on his in-squad computer screen and wrongly concluded that the car’s owner didn’t have a valid license. (¶¶2-3, 5-7). His mistake doesn’t matter because the officer’s other observations justified the stop.

¶12     The totality of the circumstances supports the circuit court’s finding of reasonable suspicion to stop Harris’s vehicle. The record reveals that it was late at night, Harris was in an area where there were numerous taverns, and Harris’s driving was erratic, with his vehicle repeatedly deviating from Harris’s lane of traffic and crossing the center line. Time of day is a legitimate factor in formulating a reasonable suspicion of impairment. See State v. Anagnos, 2012 WI 64, ¶58, 341 Wis. 2d 576, 815 N.W.2d 675. Taken together, these specific and articulable facts gave rise to reasonable suspicion justifying Skenandore’s further investigation as to whether Harris was driving while intoxicated.

¶13     Harris argues that Skenandore’s mistaken belief that the registered owner of the vehicle did not have a valid driver’s license could not constitute an objectively reasonable mistake of fact providing a basis for Skenandore’s stop of Harris’s vehicle. In doing so, Harris ignores the circuit court’s finding that Skenandore acted in good faith, which is supported by the record. Skenandore was engaged in multiple tasks at the time, including driving a squad car, observing Harris’s driving behavior, entering a license plate number into the MDT, and trying to read the results. Further, the court was aware that Skenandore was engaged in field training at the time, indicating that he was not an experienced field officer. Skenandore’s mistake under these facts cannot be said to be unreasonable or indicative of any bad faith.

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