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Traffic Stops: Were You Pulled over by the Police without Justification?

Posted on in Car Accidents

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.

Mr. Houghton’s attorney argued that there was no probable cause to search the vehicle and therefore the search and arrest was unlawful. The state argued that there was reasonable suspicion to pull Mr. Houghton’s car over in the first place, and cited Wisconsin Statute 346.88(3)(b). This statute deals with obstructing the driver’s view, and the state argued that the police officer believed the statute prohibited hanging an air freshener from the rear view mirror.

Wisconsin Statute 346.88(3)(b) does not prohibit hanging an air freshener from the rear view mirror. However, the court believed the officer’s testimony; that he believed the law did prohibit hanging air fresheners from the mirror, and that his mistake was “objectively reasonable.” Based on that, the Wisconsin Supreme Court determined that Officer Price had reasonable suspicion to stop Mr. Houghton’s car.

If a Police Officer Misunderstands the Law, You Can Be Arrested

The Houghton case changes Wisconsin law and actually allows you to be arrested when a police officer does not understand the law. However, it cannot be any mistake – all mistakes must be “objectively reasonable.” No actual test was given by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to determine when a mistake is objectively reasonable, so it will be a fact intensive issue in which the outcome differs in each case (and could even differ on the same set of facts, depending on how a particular jury finds).

What Does This Mean for You?

The Houghton case is alarming, as it appears you can be pulled over at any time, as long as a police officer will later testify that he or she made a reasonable mistake. If you were pulled over for reasons you do not believe were reasonable and subsequently arrested, you need legal counsel immediately.

Our skilled Milwaukee criminal defense lawyers are ready to help you if you were arrested due to a police officer making a “mistake” in the law. We will do everything possible to keep your case out of the courtroom entirely, and have your charges dismissed if possible.  Our attorneys stand ready to defend you vigorously, so call us at 414-271-1440 or send us an e-mail today.

Source:

http://wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=144444

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