By Gretchen Schuldt
Turning a car around at a wayside late at night does not provide police with enough reasonable suspicion enough to justify a search of the vehicle, a Court of Appeals judge affirmed last week.
District 2 Appeals Judge Brian K. Hagedorn upheld Fond du Lac County Circuit Judge Robert J. Wirtz's ruling tossing a search that resulted in an arrest for possession of marijuana.
The county argued that Isaac A. Dahlke's actions when he entered a wayside about 12:30 a.m. and turned around near a boat launch "constituted reasonable suspicion that illegal activity was afoot," Hagedorn wrote in his decision.
Deputy Lucas Olson testified that the park was used for illicit activity, "especially during that timeframe." He did not, however, see any illegal activity.
But, wrote Hagedorn, "The county has no constitutional authority to stop someone simply for driving when and where bad things often happen. While this may cause a reasonable law enforcement officer to have an inkling something is up, it does not rise to the level of providing a reason to suspect that the individual has committed, was committing, or is about to commit a crime. While it might be a reasonable hunch, without more, it is still just a hunch."
The county also argued that Dahlke was on county park property when he entered the wayside. The park is closed after 10 p.m. by ordinance, the county argued, so the officer had a reasonable suspicion that Dahlke was violating the ordinance.
Hagedorn also rejected that argument. County ordinances do not clearly establish the boundaries of the park or whether the wayside is included. In addition, and the wayside, between Lake Winnebago and U.S. Highway 45, is marked for drivers approaching from either direction.
"An ordinary driver accepting the highway sign’s invitation to pull in to the wayside for an evening nap on a long journey would appear to have no idea they are breaking the law...." Hagedorn wrote.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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