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Stop of SUV reasonable due to malfunctioning stop lamp

State v. James A. Webb, 2015AP1613-CR, 3/22/16, District 1 (-1-judge opinion; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

The court of appeals here reverses a suppression order and holds that officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Webb’s SUV because its high-mount stop light was not working while the driver was braking. During the stop, officers discovered that Webb was carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

Wis. Admin Code § Trans. 305.15(5)(a) requires high-mount tail lights on all motor vehicles to be in good working order. The defense argued, and the circuit court agreed, that this provision applies only to commercial vehicles. The court of appeals begged to differ.

¶11 When [Officer] Susler pulled up behind Webb, he noticed that all of the bulbs on the high-mount tail light were burned out. Susler referred to this as “Trans .05 violation.” Susler was clearly aware of the mandates of WIS. ADMIN. CODE § Trans. 305.15(5)(a) and, based on his training, had a reasonable belief that this provision allowed for a traffic stop. The provision clearly states that high-mount tail lights on all motor vehicles, including automobiles, must be in working order. All of the bulbs being burned out is not working order. Susler pointed to specific and articulable facts to support his belief that Webb was committing an offense. See State v. Colstad, 2003 WI App 25, ¶11, 260 Wis. 2d 406, 659 N.W.2d 394 (“an officer may perform an investigatory stop of a vehicle based on a reasonable suspicion of a non-criminal traffic violation”). Accordingly, Susler had reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop of Webb’s vehicle.

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