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Reasonable Suspicion – Terry Stop

State v. Robert Wendt, 2010AP75-CR, District 1, 8/17/10

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Wendt: Kirk B. Obear; BiC; Resp.

Reasonable suspicion supported temporary stop of driver of truck idling at 1:30 a.m. behind business in winter with it snow plow up.

¶16 Here, there were “specific and articulable facts,” as set forth by Sergeant Paul during her testimony, which could have led a reasonable police officer to believe that crime was afoot when Sergeant Paul first approached Wendt’s truck. See Terry, 392 U.S. at 21. Given that it was 1:30 a.m., the business at which the truck was idling had long since closed, and the truck was not plowing snow—in other words, there was no immediately discernable reason for the truck to be there—it was not unreasonable for Sergeant Paul to conclude that Wendt may be preparing to burglarize the business. Consequently, Wendt’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated when Sergeant Paul approached his truck to ask him why he was there.

¶17  Wendt asks us to conclude that because there is a potentially innocent explanation for his actions—that he was in the parking lot to plow snow—that Sergeant Paul lacked reasonable suspicion to approach his vehicle. That is not the law. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that “reasonable inferences of criminal activity can be drawn from [seemingly innocent] behavior.” Waldner, 206 Wis. 2d at 59. “Suspicious conduct by its very nature is ambiguous, and the principal function of the investigative stop is to quickly resolve that ambiguity.” Id. at 60. That is exactly what Sergeant Paul did here.

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