State v. Smith, No. 2015AP756-CR

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Writing for the CourtREBECCA GRASSL BRADLEY, J.
Parties STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent-Petitioner, v. Frederick S. SMITH, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date09 January 2018
Docket NumberNo. 2015AP756-CR

379 Wis.2d 86
905 N.W.2d 353
2018 WI 2

STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent-Petitioner,
v.
Frederick S. SMITH, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 2015AP756-CR

Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

Oral Argument: September 5, 2017
Opinion Filed: January 9, 2018


For the plaintiff-respondent-petitioner there were briefs by Tiffany M. Winter, assistant attorney general, with whom on the briefs were Brad D. Schimel, attorney general, and Lisa E.F. Kumfer, assistant attorney general. There was an oral argument by Tiffany M. Winter.

For the defendant-appellant there was a brief and oral argument by Christopher D. Sobic, assistant state public defender.

REBECCA GRASSL BRADLEY, J.

379 Wis.2d 90

¶1 We are asked to decide whether the police violated Frederick S. Smith's Fourth Amendment rights when a police officer asked for his driver's license during a traffic stop even though reasonable suspicion for the stop dissipated as the officer approached the car, or when the police officer opened the passenger door after being told the driver's door and window were broken. The Fourth Amendment protects "against unreasonable searches and seizures,"1 and our analysis focuses on what is reasonable in light of the particular circumstances.

379 Wis.2d 91

See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) ; see also Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 222, 80 S.Ct. 1437, 4 L.Ed.2d 1669 (1960) ("What the Constitution forbids is not all searches and seizures, but unreasonable searches and seizures.").

¶2 We hold that when an officer conducts a valid traffic stop, part of that stop includes checking identification, even if the reasonable suspicion that formed the basis for the stop in the first place has dissipated. See Rodriguez v. United States, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1615, 191 L.Ed.2d 492 (2015) ("Beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer's mission includes ‘ordinary inquiries incident to [the traffic] stop.’ " (citing Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 408, 125 S.Ct. 834, 160 L.Ed.2d 842 (2005) ); State v. Williams, 2002 WI App 306, ¶1, 258 Wis. 2d 395, 655 N.W.2d 462 ("We conclude the officer had the requisite reasonable suspicion to stop Williams's vehicle to determine if he was the suspect in a domestic

905 N.W.2d 356

abuse incident. We also conclude that, because the initial detention was lawful, the officer could properly ask Williams his name and for identification even if she had already decided he was not the suspect.")). Asking for a driver's license does not impermissibly extend a stop because it is part of the original mission of the traffic stop. However, the "ordinary inquiries," which are related in scope to the purpose of a traffic stop, must be executed within the time it should have reasonably taken to complete them. Rodriguez, 135 S.Ct. at 1614.

¶3 We further hold the police officer's act of opening the passenger door in order to effectively

379 Wis.2d 92

communicate with a driver otherwise inaccessible due to the malfunctioning driver's door and window did not constitute an unreasonable search because the officer's actions, viewed objectively, would warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe the action taken was appropriate. See Terry, 392 U.S. at 21-22, 88 S.Ct. 1868. Because Smith's stop was reasonably executed, we hold that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred. The circuit court2 correctly denied Smith's suppression motion. Accordingly, the decision of the court of appeals3 is reversed and Smith's judgment of conviction stands.

I. BACKGROUND

¶4 On April 6, 2014, Madison Police Sergeant Bernard Gonzalez's duties included monitoring a Madison neighborhood for gang retaliation following what police believed to be gang-related shots fired the previous night. At about 10:45 p.m., Gonzalez, while parked in the watch area, observed a car with dark tinted windows drive by and stop in the middle of the street for 10 to 15 seconds.4 This drew Gonzalez's attention "because [the car] did not pull to the curb. It stopped in the middle of the street."5 Then, a passenger

379 Wis.2d 93

got out of the car and walked to apartment buildings, after which the car drove away. Gonzalez followed the car, checked the license plate, and learned the registered owner, Amber Smith, had a suspended driver's license. Gonzalez activated the squad's lights to get the car to pull over. The car did not pull over right away, but proceeded to turn off the main street and turn again into a parking lot before finally pulling into a parking space and stopping. When Gonzalez was five-to-ten feet from the driver's door, he "was pretty sure" the driver was not Amber Smith because the driver appeared to be a man. When the sergeant asked6 the driver, later identified as Frederick Smith, to open the door or roll down the window, Smith shrugged his shoulders and responded that both the door and window were broken. As is his typical practice in a traffic stop with an inoperable driver's side door and window, Gonzalez walked to the passenger side of the car to speak "more effectively" with

905 N.W.2d 357

Smith. Smith appeared to be cooperating and moving toward the passenger seat, either activating the lock or reaching for the passenger door handle. Gonzalez did not ask Smith to open the passenger side door or window; rather, the sergeant put his hand on the door handle, and testified that "together we opened the door." "[Smith] reached over and worked the door handle." Gonzalez, believing Smith was cooperating by moving toward the passenger seat and trying to open the passenger door, testified that they "simultaneously ... opened the door."7

379 Wis.2d 94

¶5 Smith admitted that he "was maneuvering to the passenger seat" after telling Gonzalez the driver's door and window were broken. Smith explained that "every day I use the car, I pull on the handle to get out because the driver's side don't open." Smith also said he stopped in that parking lot because he lived in a building next to it.

¶6 With the door open, Gonzalez observed that Smith had red, bloodshot eyes, and smelled of alcohol. When Gonzalez asked Smith for his driver's license, Smith responded that his license had been revoked. After conducting field sobriety tests, Gonzalez arrested Smith and took him to the police station where Smith refused to voluntarily give a blood sample. Gonzalez obtained a warrant and transported Smith to the hospital for the evidentiary blood test. Afterwards, Gonzalez drove Smith to the Dane County Jail where he agreed to provide a breath sample pursuant to the jail admitting procedures. The breath test showed Smith's blood alcohol to be .38. The State charged Smith with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant, seventh offense.

¶7 Smith moved to suppress all evidence acquired from the traffic stop, arguing that when Gonzalez saw a man (rather than a woman) driving the car, reasonable suspicion dissolved, and the stop should have immediately ceased. He also argued Gonzalez violated the Fourth Amendment when he opened the

379 Wis.2d 95

passenger door without any lawful basis to do so. The circuit court denied Smith's motion and he pled guilty to operating a motor vehicle under the influence, seventh offense, contrary to Wis. Stat. §§ 346.63(1)(a) and 939.62(1)(b) (2015-16).8

¶8 Smith did not file a postconviction motion but appealed to the court of appeals, arguing that all evidence should be suppressed and his judgment should be vacated because: (1) once Gonzalez saw a man (instead of a woman) behind the wheel, reasonable suspicion for the initially lawful stop evaporated, and the sergeant's failure to immediately release Smith improperly extended the duration of the seizure; and (2) the sergeant conducted an unlawful search in violation of the Fourth Amendment by opening the passenger door without consent or probable cause. The court of appeals declined to decide the case on the merits; instead, it determined the State's response to Smith's arguments on appeal were too cursory to warrant a review on the merits. The court of appeals

905 N.W.2d 358

vacated Smith's conviction and remanded the case to the circuit court ordering it to grant Smith's suppression motion; it sua sponte ordered that Smith be allowed to withdraw his plea. State v. Smith, No. 2015AP756-CR, unpublished slip op., ¶1, 372 Wis. 2d 184, 2016 WL 5415968 (Wis. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 2016) (per curiam). We granted the State's petition for review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW & APPLICABLE LAW

¶9 A suppression issue presents a question of constitutional fact. See State v. Floyd, 2017 WI 78, ¶11, 377 Wis. 2d 394, 898 N.W.2d 560. "We review the

379 Wis.2d 96

circuit court's findings of historical fact under the clearly erroneous standard. But the circuit court's application of the...

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14 practice notes
  • State v. Brown, No. 2017AP774-CR
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 3, 2020
    ...OF REVIEW ¶8 A party seeking suppression based on a Fourth Amendment violation presents a question of constitutional fact. State v. Smith, 2018 WI 2, ¶9, 379 Wis. 2d 86, 905 N.W.2d 353 (citing State v. Floyd, 2017 WI 78, ¶11, 377 Wis. 2d 394, 898 N.W.2d 560 ). "We review the circuit court's......
  • State v. Burgess, 2021AP1067-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • April 21, 2022
    ...that justified the stop because the mission of the stop is not concluded until the ordinary inquiries are complete. State v. Smith, 2018 WI 2, ¶21, 379 Wis.2d 86, 905 N.W.2d 353. ¶35 In Smith, the arresting officer lawfully stopped a vehicle that he knew to be owned by a person with a suspe......
  • State v. Hansen (In re Hansen), 2021AP1006
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • May 5, 2022
    ...there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile's registration and proof of insurance.'" State v. Smith, 2018 WI 2, ¶10, 379 Wis.2d 86, 905 N.W.2d 353 (citing Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 355). ¶31 The length of a stop becomes unreasonable if extended past the poi......
  • State v. Adell, 2020AP2135-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • September 16, 2021
    ...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. A traffic stop is reasonable at its inception if it is supported by reasonable suspicion that a traffic v......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • State v. Brown, No. 2017AP774-CR
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 3, 2020
    ...OF REVIEW ¶8 A party seeking suppression based on a Fourth Amendment violation presents a question of constitutional fact. State v. Smith, 2018 WI 2, ¶9, 379 Wis. 2d 86, 905 N.W.2d 353 (citing State v. Floyd, 2017 WI 78, ¶11, 377 Wis. 2d 394, 898 N.W.2d 560 ). "We review the circuit court's......
  • State v. Burgess, 2021AP1067-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • April 21, 2022
    ...that justified the stop because the mission of the stop is not concluded until the ordinary inquiries are complete. State v. Smith, 2018 WI 2, ¶21, 379 Wis.2d 86, 905 N.W.2d 353. ¶35 In Smith, the arresting officer lawfully stopped a vehicle that he knew to be owned by a person with a suspe......
  • State v. Hansen (In re Hansen), 2021AP1006
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • May 5, 2022
    ...there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile's registration and proof of insurance.'" State v. Smith, 2018 WI 2, ¶10, 379 Wis.2d 86, 905 N.W.2d 353 (citing Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 355). ¶31 The length of a stop becomes unreasonable if extended past the poi......
  • State v. Adell, 2020AP2135-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • September 16, 2021
    ...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. A traffic stop is reasonable at its inception if it is supported by reasonable suspicion that a traffic v......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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