Police Had Reasonable Suspicion to Make Traffic Stop Based on
By org jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Legal Writer,
State Bar of Wisconsin
Sept. 14, 2012 – A man who called police to report suspicious
activity supplied the reasonable suspicion necessary for police to make
a valid traffic stop, an appeals court has ruled. In turn, evidence that
Carl Rissley committed a fifth OWI
offense will not be suppressed.
In April 2010, a homeowner called the Caledonia Police Department
around 3 a.m. to report that a man confronted him in his
driveway looking for “Pookie,”
a character the homeowner did not know. According to the homeowner, the
man threatened him and “took off like a bat out of hell”
when the homeowner said he was calling the cops.
The homeowner gave the police dispatcher a description of the suspect
and the vehicle, and gave updates while the man drove off. He said the
man, who he’d encountered before, was “speeding like a mad
man,” and the homeowner was unable to record his license
A short time later, a police officer located the described vehicle,
driven by Rissley. The officer did not witness Rissley commit any crimes or traffic
violations, but pulled him over. After smelling alcohol, the officer
arrested Rissley for operating while intoxicated, fifth
In circuit court, Rissley moved to
suppress evidence obtained from an illegal traffic stop, arguing that
police did not have reasonable suspicion to make the stop. The circuit
court agreed, concluding that police did not have reasonable suspicion
that Rissley committed a crime based on
“articulable” facts, a requirement under Terry v.
Ohio, 329 U.S. 1 (1968).
However, in State
v. Rissley, 2011AP1789-CR
(Sept. 12), the District II Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed,
concluding that police had reasonable suspicion to make the stop.
“We agree with the State that police had reasonable suspicion of
criminal activity being afoot,” wrote Chief Appeals Court Judge
Richard Brown for the three-judge appeals panel.
“In addition to the state’s assertion of disorderly
conduct, we see suspicion of criminal trespass, speeding, erratic
driving, and perhaps stalking,” wrote Judge Brown, rejecting the
argument that police did not have the license plate identification to
associate Rissley’s van with any crime.
The appeals panel also rejected Rissley’s
argument that the police officer did not exercise independent discretion
in deciding whether there was reasonable suspicion to make the stop.
“The officer making the stop was simply not required to exercise
his independent discretion,” Judge Brown wrote. “The fact
that he made the stop based on information from dispatch and dispatch
had information amounting to reasonable suspicion is enough.”
Finally, the situation was not subject to a rule that Terry
stops should be limited to investigations of serious (not minor) past
crimes, the appeals panel explained, referencing United
States v Hensley, 469 U.S. 221 (1985), and
noting that Rissley’s actions were ongoing, not
“[P]olice were acting in the heat of the moment to investigate an
ongoing situation and freeze time so that any ambiguities in potentially
criminal conduct could be resolved,” Judge Brown wrote. The panel
reversed the order to suppress evidence and remanded the case.