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State v. Eric W. Sagen, 2010AP2119-CR, District 4, 1/20/11

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Sagen: Charles W. Giesen, Jessica Jean Giesen; case activity; Sagen BiC; State Resp.; Reply

Traffic Stop – Community Caretaker

A yell from inside a passing truck justified a stop under the community caretaker doctrine.

¶13      We conclude that the facts as found by the circuit court satisfy this objective standard.  Officer Olson heard a yell coming from within the truck passing directly in front of him.  In his experience, it is rare for people to try to get his attention while he is in his official capacity unless they are seeking help.  It was dark and Officer Olson was unable to see inside the vehicle to determine what was happening.  Under these circumstances, it was objectively reasonable for Officer Olson to stop the vehicle in order to determine whether anyone inside needed assistance.

That’s it. Note, too, that the officer couldn’t even determine what was yelled, ¶14 n. 2 (“Officer Olson does not say that he knew the yell was not the word ‘help’; he says he didn’t know. However, even if the yell was not ‘help,’ but some other word the officer couldn’t understand, our conclusion would be the same: Officer Olson’s concern that there was a disturbance in the vehicle based on the circumstances surrounding the indecipherable yell was reasonable.”). Moreover, “was unable to see into the vehicle and thus was unable to determine how many people were inside,” ¶3. Why, then, isn’t it reasonable to say that the truck contained only the driver – which is to say, someone who would have pulled over if he wanted assistance? Or that the noise wasn’t coming from a radio? Long and short of it: a single, loud indistinct noise from a moving vehicle supports a stop. Keep it down in the cabin, and by all means mind what you’re playing when you pass a cruiser.

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