State v. Williams

Decision Date03 October 2002
Docket NumberNo. 02-0384-CR.,02-0384-CR.
Citation258 Wis.2d 395,655 N.W.2d 462,2002 WI App 306
PartiesSTATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Vernell T. WILLIAMS, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtWisconsin Court of Appeals

On behalf of the plaintiff-appellant, the cause was submitted on the briefs of David J. O'Leary, district attorney, and Scott H. Dirks, assistant district attorney, Janesville.

On behalf of the defendant-respondent, the cause was submitted on the brief of Michael A. Haakenson of Haakenson & Haakenson, Janesville.

Before Vergeront, P.J., Dykman and Lundsten, JJ.


The State appeals from the trial court's order granting Vernell Williams's motion to suppress evidence discovered in his vehicle and statements he made after he was stopped by a police officer. The State contends the trial court erred in concluding that the officer who stopped him did not have the requisite reasonable suspicion for an investigative detention. We conclude the officer had the requisite reasonable suspicion to stop Williams's vehicle to determine if he was the suspect in a domestic 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. However, we do not agree with the State that we can decide on the present record whether the officers unlawfully prolonged the detention to obtain Williams's consent to search his vehicle, whether he consented to the search, whether the consent if given was voluntary, and whether there are grounds to suppress Williams's statements. Findings of fact must be made before these issues can be decided. We therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings.


¶ 2. Officer Mary Garcia of the Beloit Police Department testified as follows at the hearing on Williams's motion to suppress. On June 16, 2001, she responded to a domestic abuse incident in Beloit. The complainant told Officer Garcia that her boyfriend, Demetrius Phillips, had a handgun and had been disorderly at the house. The complainant described Phillips as a black male in his twenties, approximately five feet six inches, weighing 150 or 160 pounds, and stated that he was driving a dark blue Chevrolet Euro 90's model with a red pinstripe and tinted windows. Officer Garcia had never met Phillips, but by June 20, 2001, she had seen a 1999 photo of him.

¶ 3. On the afternoon of June 20, while on duty, Officer Garcia observed a young black male driving a four-door blue Chevrolet Euro with a red pinstripe at an intersection a few blocks from the scene of the domestic abuse incident. The vehicle had a temporary registration plate. Officer Garcia could not remember at the hearing, but she did not think this vehicle had tinted windows. Officer Garcia activated her squad car lights and pulled the vehicle over to see if the driver was Phillips. The driver identified himself as Vernell T. Williams and gave his date of birth, 9-02-84, but he did not have a driver's license or any other identification to prove his identity. At the time Officer Garcia stopped him, she did not think she had seen Williams before, but by the time of the hearing she had realized she had had prior contact with him.

¶ 4. Officer Garcia called Officer Henderson over the police radio to ask if he would be able to identify Vernell Williams, and Officer Henderson said yes. Officer Garcia called Officer Henderson because he had a lot of contacts and knew a lot of people. Officer Henderson arrived at the scene and confirmed that the person in the vehicle was Williams. Officer Garcia had Williams's name and birth date run through the dispatcher and learned that Williams did not have a valid driver's license. Officer Garcia asked Williams to step out of the car. Officer Henderson patted Williams down. At some point Officer Garcia asked Williams if she could search his car, and Williams said "yes." Officer Garcia found nothing in the interior of the vehicle, but in the trunk she found a substance she believed to be cocaine.

¶ 5. Officer Garcia testified that at no time did Williams indicate that she could not search the vehicle and he was never upset with her searching the vehicle. She testified initially that, when she asked him if she could search his car, Williams was standing next to his car. She testified later that she asked if she could look in his trunk, and he said yes; she asked him this after he was put in one of the squad cars. Officer Garcia acknowledged that she did not issue Williams a citation for having an invalid driver's license. ¶ 6. Williams did not testify, but he called Canneta Baumann, who lived on the street where Williams was stopped. She testified that she was outside and saw the car being pulled over across the street. She heard a female police officer say "get out of the car" and saw a man get out. She did not know the man, but she identified him as Williams, who was sitting in the courtroom. She saw him get out of the car, and he talked with the officer briefly, but she could not hear. She then saw them walk to the squad car and saw Williams get into the squad car. The female officer walked back to the blue car, stuck her head in and went back to the squad car and talked to Williams with the door open. Baumann could not hear what the officer was saying, but she heard Williams yell "why are you in the fucking car without my permission." Baumann went in and out of her house a couple of times during the incident. She did not see the officer searching the car.

¶ 7. Officer John Fahrney of the Beloit Police Department also testified. When he learned on the police radio that Williams had been pulled over, he told Officer Garcia over the radio to attempt to obtain consent to search Williams's vehicle. When Officer Fahrney later arrived at the scene, Williams was already in the squad car and drugs had been found in his vehicle. Officer Fahrney believed Williams had been sitting in the squad car for less than ten minutes before Officer Fahrney arrived at the scene. Officer Fahrney read Williams his Miranda1 rights. Williams agreed to talk to him. Williams told the officer the cocaine found in the car belonged to him and he intended to sell it. Officer Fahrney had talked to Baumann and she showed him where she was standing in her yard when she saw the incident. It was about 100 yards from the cars, and it was his opinion it would be hard to hear a conversation at that distance at that busy intersection. Baumann's statement to Officer Fahrney on what she saw and heard was similar to her testimony at the hearing. On cross-examination Officer Fahrney acknowledged that he did not have Williams sign a waiver of rights form the department has, and did not type up Williams's statement and give it to him to read.

¶ 8. The trial court granted Williams's motion to suppress, concluding that the initial stop violated the Fourth Amendment. The court decided that the description of a 90's blue Chevrolet Euro with a red pinstripe was too generic, and that was all the information Officer Garcia had at the time of the stop, other than that a black male was operating the vehicle. The court also found that the focus of the stop quickly switched from locating Phillips to Williams, and that a search of the vehicle had nothing to do with disorderly conduct that occurred four days ago. The court stated it was obvious to everyone that the officers were not going to release Williams once they determined he was not Phillips.

¶ 9. In reciting the testimony regarding the stop, the court observed that the sequence of events of identifying Williams, learning his driver's license was not valid, asking for consent to search his vehicle, and asking consent to search the trunk was not clear. However, the court did not make specific findings on these occurrences. The court indicated that it appeared Williams was asked to step out of the car so Officer Garcia could search it after she received the communication from Officer Fahrney. The court did not make any findings on why or when Williams was placed in the squad car. ¶ 10. The court stated it "had some real concerns with the consent to search," but decided it was not necessary to resolve those because of its conclusion that the initial stop was unlawful. The court did say that it did not "think the defendant was really given any alternatives in regard to his being released even after it was determined that he was not Demetrius Phillips."



¶ 11. The State contends that the trial court erred in concluding that Officer Garcia did not have reasonable suspicion to make the initial stop. In addition, the State contends the undisputed evidence establishes that the officers' conduct after the initial stop was lawful, Williams consented to the search of his vehicle, he waived his Miranda rights, and his statement to Officer Fahrney was freely and voluntarily given. Williams contests each of these propositions.


¶ 12. We address first the issue of the lawfulness of the initial stop. In executing a valid investigative stop consistent with the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, a law enforcement officer needs to reasonably suspect, in light of his or her experience, that some kind of criminal activity has taken or is taking place. State v. Richardson, 156 Wis. 2d 128, 139, 456 N.W.2d 830 (1990). Reasonable suspicion must be based on specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion. Id. In determining what facts are sufficient to authorize police to stop a person, the court must take the totality of the circumstances into account. Id. The essential question is whether the action of the law enforcement officer was reasonable under all the facts and circumstances present. Id. "It is a common...

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