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Use of handcuffs didn’t transform stop into arrest

State v. Christopher Antonje Tek, 2021AP1112-Cr, 3/31/22, District 4, (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs).

About 45 seconds into a traffic stop, Officer Rocha placed Tek in handcuffs and continued his investigation of a possible OWI.  Ten minutes later, Rocha took Tek to jail and arrested him. Tek argued that he was arrested–without probable cause–when Rocha cuffed him.  The court of appeals disagreed. It held that Rocha had reasonable suspicion to investigate a possible crime, and his use of handcuffs did not transform Tek’s detention into an arrest.

An investigatory stop must be supported by reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. The duration of the stop must be reasonable. When the investigation is done, the person is free to leave.  State v. Dobbs, 2020 WI 64, ¶95, 392 Wis. 2d 505, 945 N.W.2d 609.

However, an investigatory stop can turn into an arrest. If it does, it must be supported by probable cause. State v. Blatterman, 2015 WI 46, ¶29, 362 Wis. 2d 138, 864 N.W.2d 26. The test for whether a person is “arrested” is whether a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have considered himself to be in custody given the degree of restraint under the circumstances. Id. ¶30.

The court of appeals held that Tek was not arrested at the point when Rocha cuffed him, so it did not address whether Rocha had probable cause for arrest. Opinion, ¶28. n.6.

First, the court of appeals held that Rocha had reasonable suspicion to stop Tek and investigated. Rocha was told that a car was involved in an accident at that location around 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday. Tek’s car was stopped facing the wrong direction on the road. Opinion, ¶29.

Second, the court of appeals found that the length of the stop was reasonable. Only 9 1/2 minutes elapsed between the time Rocha started questioning Tek and the time Rocha transported Tek to jail. Opinion, ¶30.

Third–and this is the crux of the matter–the court of appeals held that based on the circumstances of this case, Rocha’s use of handcuffs did not transform Tek’s detention into an arrest under Blatterman, 362 Wis. 2d 138, ¶¶30-33.

¶32 When Tek stepped out of the car after not responding to Rocha’s questions and told Rocha to handcuff him or he was leaving, Rocha’s reasonable suspicion of some criminal activity—arising from the report of a car being in an accident and driving on flat tires in just the location where Tek’s car was stopped, facing the wrong way on the road, at 4:30 on a Sunday morning, with Tek sitting in the driver’s seat—had not dissipated, nor had the need for an investigation diminished, and Tek’s behavior implicated concerns by a reasonable officer that the investigation could not safely proceed without Tek being handcuffed.

¶33 Less than one minute had elapsed since Rocha had initiated the stop and begun his investigation by asking Tek questions that Tek did not answer. At that point, the use of handcuffs was justified by Tek’s unprompted exiting of the car, nonresponsiveness to questions, continuous movement, and persistent agitated insistence that he was about to be picked up, in order to enable law enforcement to safely continue the investigation that had just begun based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. C.f. Pickens, 323 Wis. 2d 226, ¶¶23-24, 30, 33 (concluding that State failed to meet burden of showing that handcuffing and placing defendant in squad car were reasonable where defendant was found sleeping in a car, answered the officer’s questions, and did not make any sudden movements, and there was no evidence of illegal activity). Further, Rocha did not by his words or actions in these circumstances indicate that he was detaining Tek for purposes other than as a temporary measure to enable him to safely continue the investigation that he had just begun, in the face of Tek’s nonresponsiveness and erratic behavior. Under these circumstances, Rocha’s placing Tek in handcuffs was reasonable.

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