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Traffic stop for flashing high beams within 500 feet of approaching car was reasonable

State v. Jamie Ellin Grimm, 2019AP789-Cr, District 2, 10/16/19 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication), case activity (including briefs)

When a driver approaches an oncoming car within 500 feet,  §347.12(1)(a) requires her to “dim, depress or tilt” her high beams so that “glaring rays” aren’t directed into the eyes of the approaching driver. It is undisputed that Grimm flashed her beams within 500 feet of an approaching squad car.

The officer stopped Grimm for a traffic violation and arrested her for OWI. She moved to suppress the OWI evidence and lost. The court of appeals affirmed based on the plain language of the statute–within 500 feet of an oncoming car, the driver must dim her high beams. Opinion, ¶12.

Grimm interpreted the statute differently. A failure to dim high beams is not, by itself, a violation. The statute also requires proof that the “glaring rays” had an impact on the other driver. Opinion, ¶13. The court of appeals held that State v. Tomaszewski, 2010 WI App 51, 324 Wis. 2d 433, 782 N.W.2d 725 rejected this very argument. It held that the statute’s “glaring rays” reference expressed the statute’s purpose. It did not impose a new element. The statute assumes that use of high beams within 500 feet will cause impairment and prohibits their use plain and simple.  Opinion, ¶14.

Grimm pointed to cases from other jurisdictions where courts interpreted their own high-beam statutes to require proof that the oncoming driver’s vision was impaired. The court of appeals noted that it was bound to follow its own precedent. Only the supreme court can overrule or modify a court of appeals’ opinion. Opinion, ¶14, n.4.



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