State v. Davis, 2020AP731-CR

CourtCourt of Appeals of Wisconsin
Writing for the CourtGRAHAM, J.
PartiesState of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Joel R. Davis, Defendant-Respondent.
Docket Number2020AP731-CR
Decision Date19 August 2021

State of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Appellant,

Joel R. Davis, Defendant-Respondent.

No. 2020AP731-CR

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District IV

August 19, 2021

APPEAL from an order of the circuit court for Vernon County, Cir. Ct. No. 2019CF112: DARCY JO ROOD, Judge. Affirmed.

Before Blanchard, P.J., Fitzpatrick, and Graham, JJ.


¶1 The State appeals an order suppressing evidence found during a traffic stop of Joel R. Davis. The circuit court suppressed the evidence because it determined that law enforcement impermissibly prolonged the stop by asking dispatch to inquire into the conditions of Davis's release on bond in a pending criminal case. It is undisputed that the officer who stopped Davis sat in his squad car and conducted no recognized tasks incidental to the mission of the stop while he waited for a response to his inquiry about Davis's bond conditions. The State primarily directs us to Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015), to support its argument that, when police check the conditions of a motorist's release on bond, this is an "ordinary inquiry" that is incidental to the mission of a lawful stop, rather than an "unrelated investigation" that constitutes an impermissible detour from the mission of the stop.

¶2 We conclude that checking for bond conditions is not an "ordinary inquiry" as that term is used in Rodriguez. Therefore, based on the circuit court's undisputed findings of fact, we conclude that law enforcement unconstitutionally prolonged the traffic stop beyond the time necessary to address the stop's mission. Accordingly, we affirm.


¶3 On July 29, 2019, Officer Tilmer Thompson of the Viroqua Police Department conducted the traffic stop that resulted in Davis's arrest. Because the issue on appeal is whether Thompson unconstitutionally prolonged that stop, we relate the chronology of events in detail. The following summary is derived primarily from the circuit court's findings of fact, as supplemented by our observations from the video footage that was admitted into evidence during the suppression hearing. The State does not dispute these facts except as noted below.

¶4 Thompson stopped Davis's vehicle at approximately 7:40 in the evening.[1] He told Davis that he had initiated the stop because Davis's vehicle did not have a passenger-side mirror. Likewise, in his initial report of this incident, Thompson wrote that he stopped Davis because Davis was operating a vehicle without a passenger-side mirror contrary to Wis.Stat. § 347.40(1) (2019-20).[2]The following day, Thompson updated his report to indicate that he also stopped Davis because he observed that Davis was not wearing a seatbelt.

¶5 At 7:43:44, Thompson learned from dispatch that Davis's driver's license was suspended. Thompson returned to Davis's car and advised him that he should call someone for a ride on account of his suspended license.

¶6 Thompson returned to his squad car at 7:48:40. According to Thompson, he intended to write a citation for the missing mirror and to "run [Davis] to see if he's on bond."

¶7 At some point, Thompson learned from dispatch that Davis had a pending criminal case in La Crosse County in which he had been charged with possession of methamphetamine and carrying a concealed weapon. At 7:50:06, Thompson radioed dispatch and asked another officer to look into whether Davis was out on bond, and whether there were any conditions to that bond. Thompson later testified that he wanted information concerning Davis's bond conditions to determine whether they required him to submit to random urinalysis testing by law enforcement.

¶8 It is undisputed that, as of 7:50:06, Thompson did not have reasonable suspicion of anything other than driving with a suspended license, and perhaps a seatbelt violation. It is also undisputed that, from that point forward, Thompson took no action in furtherance of writing a citation for any traffic offense. Instead, the circuit court found that, as reflected by the body camera footage, Thompson sat in his squad car doing nothing as he waited for dispatch to call someone in La Crosse County to inquire about Davis's bond conditions.

¶9 Shortly after Thompson radioed dispatch about the bond conditions, Officer Robert Raasch arrived on the scene. At 7:50:45, Raasch told Thompson that Davis is a "big-time dealer" who "carr[ies] his meth in his sock area." Raasch approached Davis's vehicle and attempted to engage Davis in conversation. He remained at or near Davis's vehicle for the duration of the stop.

¶10 At approximately 8:02, Thompson learned from dispatch that Davis's bond conditions were not related to driving and did not permit random drug testing by law enforcement.

¶11 Raasch later testified that, at some point while he stood by Davis's vehicle, he observed "bulges" in Davis's socks and his right pants pocket. Nothing in the record reflects when, precisely, Raasch made this observation. According to the State, Raasch developed reasonable suspicion that Davis had drugs in his possession based on this observation. For purposes of this appeal, we assume without deciding that the State's assertion about reasonable suspicion is correct.

¶12 A third officer arrived on the scene with a police dog at approximately 8:10 p.m.[3] It is not clear from the record which of the officers requested the presence of the canine unit, nor is it clear when that request was made. After the dog alerted to the presence of drugs, the officers ordered Davis out of the vehicle and searched him, finding a large amount of cash and a bag containing methamphetamine.

¶13 Davis was charged with possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine and felony bail jumping. He filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained from the traffic stop. He argued, first, that the traffic stop was unconstitutional from the outset because it was not supported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and second, that even if the initial stop was constitutional, Thompson unconstitutionally prolonged the stop to wait for a canine unit to conduct a dog sniff.

¶14 After briefing and an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court granted Davis's motion. The State appeals.


¶15 The review of an order granting or denying a suppression motion presents an issue of constitutional fact. State v. Johnson, 2013 WI.App. 140, ¶6, 352 Wis.2d 98, 841 N.W.2d 302. We uphold the circuit court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous, and we independently review the application of constitutional principles to those facts. Id.

¶16 "The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable seizures."[4] State v. Wright, 2019 WI 45, ¶23, 386 Wis.2d 495, 926 N.W.2d 157. This prohibition applies to traffic stops, which are considered seizures for constitutional purposes. Id. "The reasonableness of a traffic stop involves a two-part inquiry: first, whether the initial seizure was justified and, second, whether subsequent police conduct 'was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified' the initial interference." State v. Smith, 2018 WI 2, ¶10, 379 Wis.2d 86, 905 N.W.2d 353 (quoted source omitted). If the initial traffic stop was unconstitutional, or if the stop was unconstitutionally prolonged beyond the time it should have taken to complete it by "unrelated investigations," a defendant may be entitled to suppression of evidence obtained during that stop. See Rodriquez, 575 U.S. at 354-55.

¶17 Here, the circuit court did not make any explicit determination about the constitutionality of the initial traffic stop.[5] Instead, the court's order suppressing the evidence was based on an alternative argument advanced by Davis that does not depend on the constitutionality of the initial stop. Davis's alternative argument is that Officer Thompson unconstitutionally prolonged the stop during the period of time in which he was waiting for dispatch to report back on whether Davis was subject to bond conditions. The court agreed with Davis's alternative argument and determined that Thompson unconstitutionality prolonged the stop by conducting a bond condition check. As the appellant, the State tells us that the sole question on appeal is a narrow one: whether checking for bond conditions is an "'ordinary inquiry' related to the mission of a traffic stop."[6]

¶18 We pause to comment on the circuit court's atypical approach to resolving Davis's suppression motion. Typically, when addressing a defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained in a traffic stop, a circuit court will determine whether there was reasonable suspicion for the initial stop. In this case, there do not appear to have been any facts missing from the record before the circuit court that would have prevented it from determining whether the initial stop was constitutional. We considered whether we should remand the case for the circuit court to make definitive findings on this topic. However, neither party asks that we remand to the circuit court without resolving the question of law about ordinary inquiries that was raised by the State. If we were to remand, and if the circuit court were to conclude on remand that the stop was constitutional and did not provide a basis for suppressing the evidence, that determination would not resolve the question currently presented in this appeal about whether the evidence should be suppressed because Thompson unconstitutionally prolonged the stop. Therefore, a remand for a determination about the constitutionality of the initial stop would likely result in an additional expenditure of judicial and party resources. Accordingly, under these circumstances, we assume without deciding that Officer Thompson had reasonable suspicion for the initial traffic stop, and we proceed to review the court's conclusion that checking for bond conditions is not an ordinary inquiry that can be used to...

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