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  • March 07, 2022

    Nighttime Stop of Bicyclist Violated Fourth Amendment, Court of Appeals Rules

    A police stop of a man riding his lighted bicycle at a normal pace across a school playground at night violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has held.

    Jeff M. Brown

    Person Riding A Bike Down City Street At Night

    ​March 7, 2022 – A police stop of a man riding his lighted bicycle at a normal pace across a school playground at night violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has held.

    ​​​In ​Sta​te v. Meddaugh, 2021AP939 (Feb. 17, 2022), the Court of Appeals District IV held that the deputy who stopped Jere Meddaugh lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop, as required by U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

    Midnight Run​​​

    The deputy was patrolling in a marked police car in Wisconsin Rapids around midnight on April 26, 2020. Just before 12:45 a.m., he saw a flashing red light traversing a blacktop playground next to an elementary school.

    Jeff M. Brown Jeff M. Brown is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6126.

    The deputy drove toward the light, guiding his car through an open gate at one end of the playground. He could see that the light was attached to a bicycle being pedaled across the playground by Meddaugh, who was clad in black.

    The deputy drove in the same direction the bicycle was heading, closing the space between them. When the deputy pulled within 20 feet of Meddaugh, he switched on the spotlight and shone it on Meddaugh.

    Meddaugh kept pedaling. The deputy pulled parallel to Meddaugh, about 15 feet away from the bicycle. Meddaugh looked toward the deputy and waved.

    Through the open window of the car, the deputy yelled at Meddaugh to stop. Meddaugh continued on in the same direction, pedaling at a normal rate.

    Deputy Seized Contraband

    Meddaugh rode out of the playground, crossing a city street and then riding down the sidewalk along a different street. The deputy followed.

    The deputy pulled ahead of Meddaugh and shined the spotlight on him. Meddaugh stopped and stepped off the bike. The deputy stepped out of the car and told Meddaugh he was a police officer.

    The deputy then arrested Meddaugh. When the deputy searched Meddaugh, he discovered contraband.

    Before trial, Meddaugh moved to suppress the contraband. The circuit court denied the motion.

    Meddaugh pleaded no contest to one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver. He appealed the circuit court’s ruling on his motion to suppress.

    Deputy Lacked Reasonable Suspicion

    On appeal, Meddaugh argued that the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him, and violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

    In an opinion written by Judge Brian Blanchard, the court of appeals agreed with Meddaugh.

    Both parties agreed that the deputy seized Meddaugh when he stepped out of the squad car and announced that he was a police officer, Judge Blanchard noted.

    To justify such an investigatory stop, Judge Blanchard explained, the state must show that the deputy had a reasonable suspicion that a crime either had been, was, or was about to be committed.

    The state had failed to clear the “low bar” established by that standard in Meddaugh’s case, Judge Blanchard wrote.

    “The evidence regarding events leading up to the stop fails to establish articulable facts and rational inferences from those facts that could have led a reasonable officer to suspect that Meddaugh had engaged in criminal activity, was currently doing so, or was about to do so.”

    A Figure in Black

    In some cases, the way a person is dressed can contribute to reasonable suspicion, Judge Blanchard noted.

    “However, here Meddaugh’s black clothing does not meaningfully contribute to reasonable suspicion because a flashing red light was attached to the bicycle and because he rode out in the open, making his presence easily detectable,” Judge Blanchard wrote.

    Furthermore, Judge Blanchard explained, Meddaugh did not try to hide from the deputy – instead, he waved at the deputy and continued pedaling at a normal rate.

    School’s Out?

    Neither did the fact that Meddaugh was riding across a school playground at night weigh in favor of a finding that the stop was supported by reasonable suspicion, Judge Blanchard explained.

    There was no evidence that Meddaugh’s presence on the playground was illegal, Judge Blanchard wrote, and “there is no evidence suggesting that Meddaugh was not allowed to cross the school yard by some formal or informal rule, notice, or understanding, or that it appeared unsafe to do so.”

    Night Owl

    The time when a stop occurs can contribute to reasonable suspicion, Judge Blanchard noted, but there was no evidence in Meddaugh’s case that the time of his stop could add to any reasonable suspicion the deputy might have had.

    “The fact that it was 12:39 a.m. might have been relevant, for example, if the deputy had come upon a person seemingly lurking behind shrubs or other objects near a closed building,” Judge Blanchard wrote. “But all we have here is a person riding across open school grounds on a bicycle with an attached blinking red light.”

    That Meddaugh didn’t stop when ordered to by the deputy was also not relevant, Judge Blanchard explained, because the deputy didn’t have reasonable suspicion at the time he ordered Meddaugh to stop.

    “Notably, in maintaining the same ‘normal’ pedaling pace and continuing in the same direction, Meddaugh took no evasive action and gave no otherwise suspicious reaction to the presence and actions of the deputy,” Judge Blanchard wrote.

    The court of appeals remanded the case to the circuit court with instructions to vacate the conviction and grant Meddaugh’s motion to suppress.



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