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Supreme Court Rules on Driving Away from Traffic Stop

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Wisconsin criminal defense attorney, Wisconsin defense lawyer, criminal rightsA recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision sheds more light on the complex question of regading a police officer detaining a person. Police stops come in two forms, voluntary and mandatory. If the interaction is voluntary, then the person is free to leave at any time, but if the interaction is mandatory, then the person must stay. These interactions come with important legal differences, such as when a person must be informed of his or her rights and when the police are allowed to detain someone. The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently ruled in Grant County v. Vogt that a driver was free to drive away when a officer tapped on the window of the driver's parked car without turning on his squad car's lights.

The Case

The case involves a late night interaction in a parking lot. At approxmiately one o'clock in the morning, a patrolling police officer observed a driver pulling into a parking lot. The parking lot was next to a park that had closed two hours earlier, but the lot itself was still open. Although the officer admitted that he did not observe any traffic violations by the driver, he nevertheless followed the car into the parking lot because he thought the behavior was unusual.

The officer pulled his car up behind the driver's, but he did not turn on his red and blue lights. He got out of the squad car, and rapped on the driver's window. The driver rolled down his window, believing that he was required to. The officer smelled alcohol on the driver's breath, and ended up arresting him for OWI. The officer later testified that had the man simply driven away when he knocked on the window, he would have been unable to pursue since the officer did not have cause to detain him.

The Fourth Amendment Issue

This case presents an issue about drivers' Fourth Amendment rights to be protected from unreasonable seizures, like traffic stops without probable cause. The court was attempting to determine whether the officer's knocking on the window created a voluntary interaction or whether it was a mandatory one, a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The test distinguishing the two is whether a reasonable person would feel free to walk away during the interaction. Part of this test is the extent to which a police officer is presenting symbols of his or her authority. In this case the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that merely knocking on a window without turning on a squad car's lights or presenting a badge was not enough of an exercise of authority to constitute a seizure, so the man would have been free to leave at the point where the officer knocked on his window.

One of the most important parts of the criminal justice system is ensuring that the rights of the accused are respected. Contact an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney to have someone there to help protect your rights.
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