State v. Kramer, No. 2007AP1834-CR.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Writing for the CourtPatience Drake Roggensack
Citation759 N.W.2d 598,2009 WI 14
Docket NumberNo. 2007AP1834-CR.
Decision Date29 January 2009
PartiesSTATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Todd Lee KRAMER, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.
759 N.W.2d 598
2009 WI 14
STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Todd Lee KRAMER, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.
No. 2007AP1834-CR.
Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
Argued November 6, 2008.
Decided January 29, 2009.

[759 N.W.2d 600]

For the defendant-appellant-petitioner there were briefs by Stephen J. Eisenberg, Marsha M. Lysen, and Eisenberg Law Offices, S.C., Madison, and oral argument by Marsha M. Lysen.

For the plaintiff-respondent the cause was argued by Sarah K. Larson, assistant attorney general, with whom on the briefs was J.B. Van Hollen, attorney general.

¶ 1 PATIENCE DRAKE ROGGENSACK, J.


We review a decision of the court of appeals1 that affirmed the circuit court's

759 N.W.2d 601

judgment2 convicting Todd Lee Kramer (Kramer) of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant. In upholding the judgment of conviction, the court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's denial of Kramer's motion to suppress evidence of his intoxicated state obtained subsequent to a police officer's stopping his squad car, with its emergency overhead lights on, behind Kramer's legally parked vehicle and approaching his driver-side window. This appeal focuses on whether the circuit court erred in its denial of Kramer's suppression motion.

¶ 2 Kramer and the State have briefed two issues for purposes of our review: (1) whether Kramer, whose vehicle was legally parked on the side of the road with its hazard lights on, was seized without either probable cause or reasonable suspicion, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 11 of the Wisconsin Constitution, when the officer activated his police cruiser's emergency overhead lights and pulled up behind Kramer's vehicle; and (2) if such a seizure did occur, whether the officer's conduct fell within the scope of his community caretaker function.

¶ 3 We elect not to resolve the first issue, and assume, without deciding, that a seizure occurred in this case, and that it was not supported either by probable cause or by reasonable suspicion. We therefore decide only the second issue, concluding that the officer's conduct fell within the scope of his community caretaker function. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

I. BACKGROUND3

¶ 4 Kramer's vehicle was legally parked on the side of County Highway J near Lodi at 8:45 p.m. The sun had set and it was dark outside. The vehicle's hazard lights were activated. According to Kramer, he had parked on the side of the road in order to make a phone call, and had activated his hazard lights because he was parked at the crest of a hill and was concerned about his visibility with respect to other traffic on the highway.

¶ 5 While Kramer was parked, Columbia County Sheriff Deputy Todd Wagner (Wagner) passed Kramer's vehicle. Wagner executed a U-turn, activated his police cruiser's emergency overhead lights and stopped behind Kramer's vehicle. At the suppression hearing, Wagner testified that his reason for stopping was to "check to see if there actually was a driver, [and to] offer any assistance." In addition, Wagner testified that "when a car is on the shoulder on the side of the road with [its] hazards on, there [are] typically vehicle problems." Finally, Wagner testified that he activated his emergency lights based on "[s]afety considerations so other traffic could see me."

¶ 6 After Wagner pulled up behind Kramer's vehicle, he exited his police cruiser. While approaching Kramer's driver-side window, Wagner shined a flashlight through the rear window and placed his hand on his holstered gun. When asked why he did so, Wagner testified, "I always do that for safety considerations. I don't know who is in the vehicle or what the situation dictates. I am just at the ready." When asked if he was concerned that a crime might be taking place, Wagner testified, "It was in my mind. I'm not sure any time I come upon a vehicle what the situation is so . . ., yes." When asked if he thought someone was doing something illegal in the car, Wagner

759 N.W.2d 602

testified, "I wasn't sure what was being done in the car. So like I said, any of those situations were always in my mind."

¶ 7 Once Wagner reached Kramer's driver-side window, he said something to the effect of "Hi. Can I help you with something?" and "Just making sure no vehicle problems." Based on Kramer's responses, Wagner became aware that Kramer was intoxicated. Wagner testified, "His speech was slurred. I could smell an odor of intoxicants coming from within the vehicle." Kramer was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant.

¶ 8 At trial, Kramer moved to suppress evidence of his intoxication, arguing that Wagner's activation of his emergency overhead lights while pulling up behind Kramer's car constituted a seizure under the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 11 of the federal and state Constitutions, respectively. Kramer additionally argued that this seizure, which was supported by neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion, was not justified by the community caretaker function.

¶ 9 Without expressly deciding the seizure question, the circuit court denied Kramer's motion to suppress, holding that Wagner's conduct was justified by the community caretaker function. The circuit court based its decision on the court of appeals' test set out in State v. Anderson, 142 Wis.2d 162, 167, 417 N.W.2d 411 (Ct. App.1987) (Anderson I), and adopted by the lead opinion in State v. Kelsey C.R., 2001 WI 54, ¶ 35, 243 Wis.2d 422, 626 N.W.2d 777 (citing Anderson I, 142 Wis.2d at 169, 417 N.W.2d 411). Kramer was convicted of driving while intoxicated. He appealed the circuit court's denial of his suppression motion.

¶ 10 The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's judgment of conviction. State v. Kramer, 2008 WI App 62, ¶ 1, 311 Wis.2d 468, 750 N.W.2d 941. In its analysis, the court of appeals expressly assumed, without deciding, that a seizure had taken place. Id., ¶ 42. The court also assumed that the seizure was supported by neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion. Id., ¶ 9. The court concluded, however, that the seizure was lawful because it fell within the scope of Wagner's community caretaker function. Id.

¶ 11 A primary question the court of appeals addressed was whether evidence of Wagner's subjective belief that criminal activity might be taking place operated to preclude his conduct from coming within the scope of his community caretaker function. Id., ¶ 13. The answer to this question turned on the court of appeals' prior interpretations of the following language from the United States Supreme Court's decision in Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973):

Local police officers . . . frequently investigate vehicle accidents in which there is no claim of criminal liability and engage in what, for want of a better term, may be described as community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.

Id. at 441, 93 S.Ct. 2523.

¶ 12 According to the court of appeals, several of its prior decisions could be read as interpreting the term, "totally divorced," to mean that a police officer could not validly execute his or her community caretaker function if he or she had any subjective law enforcement motivation for the actions taken. Kramer, 2008 WI App 62, ¶¶ 14, 39, 311 Wis.2d 468, 750 N.W.2d 941. The court of appeals reasoned that these decisions may be contrary to other Wisconsin and United States Supreme Court Fourth Amendment decisions, which

759 N.W.2d 603

had uniformly evaluated police conduct objectively. Id., ¶ 33. Because of this potential conflict, the court of appeals urged that we explain the analysis for a community caretaker function that addresses whether a police officer's subjective motivations may be considered. Id., ¶ 30.

¶ 13 The court of appeals evaluated Wagner's conduct under community caretaker criteria that take into account an officer's subjective motivation. Id., ¶ 14. Although the court acknowledged that Wagner had some generalized concerns that criminal activity might be taking place, it held that the terms "totally divorced" employed in Cady "cannot mean that an officer must have subjectively ruled out all possibility of criminal activity in order to act in a community caretaker capacity." Id., ¶ 15. The court noted that to hold otherwise would mean that "the situations in which an officer could lawfully perform valuable community caretaker services would be few and far between." Id., ¶ 16.

¶ 14 As a result, the court held that Wagner's subjective belief that criminal activity might be taking place did not, in and of itself, cause the seizure to become unlawful under its community caretaker analysis. Id., ¶ 17. Therefore, since the court concluded that Wagner's conduct was lawful under the three-step analysis described in Anderson I, the court of appeals affirmed the denial of Kramer's motion to suppress and upheld the circuit court's judgment of conviction. Id., ¶ 42.

¶ 15 We granted review and now affirm.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

¶ 16 Whether police conduct constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 11 of the federal and state Constitutions is a question of constitutional fact that we review independently. State v. Arias, 2008 WI 84, ¶ 11, 311 Wis.2d 358, 752 N.W.2d 748 (citing State v. Griffith, 2000 WI 72, ¶ 23, 236 Wis.2d 48, 613 N.W.2d 72). Accordingly, we independently review whether an officer's community caretaker function satisfies the requirements of the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 11 of the federal and state Constitutions. Kelsey C.R., 243 Wis.2d 422, ¶ 34, 626 N.W.2d 777.

B. General Principles

¶ 17 If Wagner's conduct constituted a seizure made without probable cause or reasonable...

To continue reading

Request your trial
100 practice notes
  • State v. Iverson, No. 2014AP515–FT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • November 25, 2015
    ...ascertainable basis for probable cause," Trooper Larsen's "subjective motivations" are "of little concern." See State v. Kramer, 2009 WI 14, ¶ 27, 315 Wis.2d 414, 759 N.W.2d 598.1 Other cases have considered whether, outside the context of a vehicle stop, a stop for a non-traffic forfeiture......
  • State v. Boisselle, No. 95858-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • September 12, 2019
    ...does not mean that police lack criminal suspicion but that the search is independent of that suspicion); see also State v. Kramer, 2009 WI 14, 315 Wis. 2d 414, 759 N.W.2d 598 (holding that officers can have criminal suspicion while conducting a community caretaking function). Of course, cou......
  • State v. Moiduddin, NO. 14-18-15
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • September 3, 2019
    ...ascertain which hat the officer will wear—his law enforcement hat or her community caretaker hat." State v. Kramer , 315 Wis.2d 414, 433, 759 N.W.2d 598 (2009). Consequently, law enforcement officers may encounter situations where both their law enforcement and their community caretaking fu......
  • Commonwealth v. Livingstone, No. 11 WAP 2016
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • November 27, 2017
    ...v. Miller , 227 W.Va. 1, 705 S.E.2d 111, 121 (2010) (seizure justified under public safety exception); State v. Kramer , 315 Wis.2d 414, 759 N.W.2d 598, 605 (2009) (seizure justified under public servant exception); Morris v. State , 908 P.2d 931, 935 (Wyo. 1995) (search of defendant's wall......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
100 cases
  • State v. Iverson, No. 2014AP515–FT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • November 25, 2015
    ...ascertainable basis for probable cause," Trooper Larsen's "subjective motivations" are "of little concern." See State v. Kramer, 2009 WI 14, ¶ 27, 315 Wis.2d 414, 759 N.W.2d 598.1 Other cases have considered whether, outside the context of a vehicle stop, a stop for a non-traffic forfeiture......
  • State v. Boisselle, No. 95858-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • September 12, 2019
    ...does not mean that police lack criminal suspicion but that the search is independent of that suspicion); see also State v. Kramer, 2009 WI 14, 315 Wis. 2d 414, 759 N.W.2d 598 (holding that officers can have criminal suspicion while conducting a community caretaking function). Of course, cou......
  • State v. Moiduddin, NO. 14-18-15
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • September 3, 2019
    ...ascertain which hat the officer will wear—his law enforcement hat or her community caretaker hat." State v. Kramer , 315 Wis.2d 414, 433, 759 N.W.2d 598 (2009). Consequently, law enforcement officers may encounter situations where both their law enforcement and their community caretaking fu......
  • Commonwealth v. Livingstone, No. 11 WAP 2016
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • November 27, 2017
    ...v. Miller , 227 W.Va. 1, 705 S.E.2d 111, 121 (2010) (seizure justified under public safety exception); State v. Kramer , 315 Wis.2d 414, 759 N.W.2d 598, 605 (2009) (seizure justified under public servant exception); Morris v. State , 908 P.2d 931, 935 (Wyo. 1995) (search of defendant's wall......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT