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Traffic stop based on mistake of law upheld

State v. Kyle M. Kleinschmidt, 2020AP881-Cr, 10/13/21, District 3 (1-judge opinion; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Kleinschmidt’s vehicle had two brake lights in good working order, but it also had a high-mount brake light that was not working.  An officer stopped him due to the defective light and established that he was operating a vehicle while his license was revoked.  Kleinschmidt argues that the officer, who based the stop on §347.14(1), lacked reasonable suspicion. Plus the correct law, § TRANS 305.15 (re high mounted brake lights), exceeds the authority granted in §347.15 and is thus invalid.

Section 347.14(1) provides that no person shall operate a vehicle equipped at the time of manufacture with 2 stop lamps unless both lamps are in good working order.  The statute says nothing about vehicles manufactured with a third, high-mounted stop lamp.

However, § TRANS 305.15(5)(a) provides that the high-mounted stop lamp of every vehicle originally manufactured with one shall be maintained in proper working condition.

There was no dispute that the officer erroneously stopped Kleinschmidt based on §347.14(1). But at the suppression hearing the officer testified that while he did not know the exact administrative provision at issue, he had reviewed the traffic code many times and had conducted stops pursuant “high mount” provision for 15 to 20 years.

The court of appeals found that testimony was sufficient under State v. Guzy, 139 Wis. 2d 663, 679-80, 407 N.W.2d 548 (1987). Guzy held that law enforcement officers cannot be expected to articulate all of the facts and circumstances motiving their stop.

The court of appeals also rejected Kleinschmidt’s challenge to the traffic code. Even if the code provision was invalid, the officer’s reliance on it was objectively reasonable, which is all that is required for reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle. State v. Houghton, 2015 WI 79, ¶52, 364 Wis. 2d 234, 868 N.W.2d 143





{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Bernardo Cueto October 23, 2021, 1:53 pm

    Your first paragraph is confusing. There is no statute 374.14 or 374.15. The statute in question was properly cited in the second paragraph as 347.14. My guess is that you accidentally confused the admin code 305.15 with the statute 347.14, which ended up with the Frankenstein 374.15.

  • admin October 31, 2021, 3:51 pm

    Since it’s Halloween, we had Frankenstein (or, at least, a guy in a Frankenstein costume) fix the typos.

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