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Reasonable Suspicion – Traffic Stop (OWI)

State v. Brian S. Wold, 2011AP1518-CR, District 2, 12/14/11

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Wold: Patrick A. Dewane, Jr.; case activity

Report from a named, citizen informant that a particular vehicle was “driving all over the roadway” was sufficiently reliable to support traffic stop for OWI, even though after spotting the vehicle, the officer followed it for a mile without himself observing any traffic violations. State v. Rutzinski, 2001 WI 22, 241 Wis. 2d 729, 623 N.W.2d 516, applied.

¶10      Having addressed Wold’s unreliable tipster argument, we turn to whether reasonable suspicion existed.  At the time of the stop—not insignificantly, just after midnight[2]—Sohlden was acting on a reliable tip that a “possible intoxicated driver” was in a vehicle weaving in the roadway and going slower than the speed limit.  Upon arriving at the scene, he spotted a vehicle matching the make and license plate number of this possible intoxicated driver and he also observed the tipster’s vehicle.  We conclude that, given these facts, Sohlden had reasonable suspicion to stop Wold.

¶11      We further conclude that reasonable suspicion did not dissipate when Sohlden did not independently observe Wold commit a traffic violation before making the stop.  Wold argues that the one-mile distance and the time it took to travel that distance dissipated any reasonable suspicion that may have existed.  He bases this argument on “common sense and everyday experience.”  We are not persuaded that Sohlden’s brief follow time dissipated his reasonable suspicion.  Rather, we recognize, as the circuit court did, that the impaired ability to operate a vehicle does not require the continual commission of erratic driving, nor does it require commission of even one traffic violation.  We also agree with the court’s consideration of public safety.  “Indeed, a drunk driver is not at all unlike a ‘bomb,’ and a mobile one at that.”  Id., ¶35 (citation omitted).  In light of the potential for imminent danger that intoxicated drivers present, the tipster’s allegations indicating that Wold may have been intoxicated supplemented the reliability of the tip and further justified Sohlden’s investigative stop.  See id.  Given all the facts including the brief follow time, reasonable suspicion did not dissipate at the time of the stop.


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