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Traffic Stop

State v. Michael E. Mings, 2011AP2467-CR, District 2, 3/28/12

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Mings: Daniel P. Fay, Erin Fay; case activity

¶12      Hallmark testified that he has completed many traffic stops in his three years as a police officer and that “most innocent public, motoring traffic, don’t usually pass … at that slow of speeds, especially when the lane is that wide and clear of traffic.”  Hallmark explained that the vehicle conducting the initial traffic stop had pulled into a driveway and that Hallmark’s vehicle was in the parking lane on Tenny Avenue. There would be no need for a vehicle to “go around” his vehicle—“[t]here’s a clear lane of traffic.”  As to Mings’ contention that he was simply trying to obey traffic laws in passing Hallmark, we note that an officer is not required to rule out the possibility of innocent behavior before initiating a brief stop.  See State v. Waldner, 206 Wis. 2d 51, 59, 556 N.W.2d 681 (1996).

¶13      Next we turn to Hallmark’s observation that Mings failed to signal at the intersection of College and Oakland.  Mings asserts, without citation, that “[t]he use or non-use of a vehicular turn signal is not to signal to a perpendicularly traveling vehicle,” but is “instead to notify a trailing vehicle that the vehicle will be slowing and turning” or to notify oncoming traffic that the vehicle may be turning in front of it. However, the circuit court found credible Hallmark’s testimony that when he observed Mings turning onto Oakland Avenue, he also saw vehicles heading south on Oakland Avenue that could reasonably be affected by Mings’ vehicle.[3]  This court has held that “when a person’s activity can constitute either a civil forfeiture or a crime, a police officer may validly perform an investigative stop.”  State v. Krier, 165 Wis. 2d 673, 678, 478 N.W.2d 63 (Ct. App. 1991).  Here, Mings’ failure to use his vehicular turn signal constituted a traffic violation and, thus, Hallmark was entitled to perform an investigative stop.

Unremarkable case – but don’t let footnote 3 escape your attention: there, the court consults Google Maps to assure itself of the configuration of the roadway. It is precisely the unremarkable nature of the case, including the court’s casual use of this resource, that attracts attention. Judge Posner’s observation in U.S. v. Boyd, 475 F.3d 875, 878 (7th Cir 2007) certainly comes to mind (“Less forgivably … no satellite photo (available free of charge from Google) was placed in evidence to indicate the physical surroundings.”). And Chief Justice Abrahamson’s, in  State v. Post, 2007 WI 60, ¶58 (conc. and diss.), quoting Judge Posner in a different case: “Yet the parties did not create a careful record of the facts at the suppression hearing.  They were too focused on the legal issue ….  Judge Richard Posner’s comment in a recent case in which the parties failed to present concrete facts to support their respective positions fits the present case: ‘This case illustrates the curious and deplorable aversion of many lawyers to visual evidence and exact measurements (feet, inches, pounds, etc.) even when vastly more informative than a verbal description.'” Though these criticisms were directed at the trial record, the appellate court’s own utilization of Google Maps illustrates the power of that resource.

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