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Wisconsin defense attorney, Wisconsin criminal lawyer, defendant rightsOne of the first questions your criminal defense attorney will ask you when you seek help for an arrest stemming from a traffic stop is why the police pulled you over in the first place. No matter if you have been arrested for drug charges, drunk driving charges, gun charges, or for any other reason, the police must have a constitutionally valid reason to stop you in the first place. If the police did not have a constitutionally valid reason to make the stop, any evidence found can be suppressed, which can often lead to dismissal of your charges.

Recent Legal Developments

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in an opinion published July 14, 2015, has opined that any time the police have a reasonable suspicion that traffic laws have been or are being violated, then a justifiable traffic stop can be made. In Wisconsin v. Houghton, a police officer pulled a Wisconsin resident over after observing the car he was driving was missing the front license plate, and because there was an air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror and a GPS on the front windshield. The officer then allegedly smelled marijuana as he approached the vehicle, and after searching the car found 240 grams of the substance.

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Objective ReasonablenessWhen you are about to be pulled over by law enforcement officers, you presume the officers pulling you over know the law, since they are charged with enforcing it. Usually, law enforcement officers are aware of the laws they are enforcing. Sometimes, however, law enforcement officers stop you based on their mistaken belief of the law — specifically, on an incorrect understanding of the law.

When a law enforcement officer has a mistaken understanding of the law, and this officer performs a traffic stop based on this mistake, the reasonableness of officer’s conduct will be evaluated by the trial court. The objective reasonableness test is applied in traffic cases because the Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. As you can presume, law enforcement officers are required to make split-second judgments in many tense and unknown circumstances. The objective reasonableness test looks at a few factors, and the actions are:
  1. Judged through the perspective of a reasonable officer;
  2. With similar training and experiences;
  3. Facing similar circumstances;
  4. Acting the same way; and
  5. Based on the totality of the circumstances at the time of the arrest.

The Supreme Court’s Perspective on Objective Reasonableness

In December 2014, the United States Supreme Court in Heien v. North Carolina indicated that when a law enforcement officer

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Wisconsin defense attorney, Wisconsin criminal lawyer, your rightsIndividuals all throughout Wisconsin have, at one point in time, found themselves detained by a police officer for a traffic violation. Of course, this may be for good reason, or it may have been conducted illegally. To be sure, when a law enforcement officer pulls you over, they must have a probable cause that a crime has been committed. This means that if you were driving one mile over to speed limit, or had a broken tail light at the time you were pulled over, the officer was within their lawful powers to pull you over.

If the traffic stop was illegal, a motion to suppress would be appropriate. A motion to suppress is a tool used to challenge the admissibility of evidence used in the prosecution’s case against the defendant. When the court is deciding whether to grant or dismiss a motion to suppress, the court will look at the totality of circumstances, which includes the officer’s decision to stop and arrest you.

Reasonableness of Traffic Stop

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 Wisconsin criminal defense attorney, Wisconsin defense lawyer, police searchAlthough many drivers understand that they have certain rights during traffic stops, often these rights are misunderstood or go unexercised. Yet, with over 200,000 traffic stops a year according to a report by the Wisconsin State Patrol, many people stand to benefit from more clearly understanding their rights when interacting with the police. With regard to traffic stops, two of the most important rights that people have are the right to not consent to searches, and the right to remain silent.

The Right Not to Consent to Searches

The Fourth Amendment provides people the right to be free from unreasonable searches. This means that police cannot simply stop a person and search their car without good reason. Instead, they need to have “probable cause” to believe that their search would turn up evidence of a crime. This is important because if an officer performs a search without probable cause, then any evidence they find cannot be used at trial.

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