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Traffic Stop – Headlights Off

State v. Eric K. Fredlund, 2012AP742-CR, District 2, 8/22/12

court of appeals decision (1-judge, ineligible for publication); case activity

An officer’s observation that a vehicle’s headlights “just appear[ed],” such that the officer couldn’t tell if the vehicle had been traveling down the roadway without lights, supported a traffic stop.

¶6        From the deputy’s observation of Fredlund’s vehicle at around “4 or 4:30 in the morning,” a reasonable officer could reasonably infer that Fredlund was violating the law by driving down the highway without the vehicle’s headlights turned on.  Before deciding to investigate, the deputy was not required to rule out other possible inferences, such as Fredlund being on the side of the road with the vehicle’s headlights off and then turning them on once he moved the vehicle.  The purpose of an investigation is to get answers to questions raised by specific and articulable facts reasonably suggesting a law may have been broken.  Had the deputy known for certain that Fredlund had been driving down the highway with the vehicle’s headlights off, the deputy would not have had to “investigate,” but instead could have stopped Fredlund and cited him based upon probable cause of the headlight violation.  Under the facts presented, a reasonable law enforcement officer would have reasonably suspected Fredlund may have been driving on the highway at that hour with the vehicle’s headlights off.  A brief investigatory stop to confirm or allay this suspicion was justified.

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