State v. Post, 2007 WI 60
Holding: Weaving within a single traffic lane does not alone give rise to the reasonable suspicion necessary to conduct an investigative stop of a vehicle. Reviewing courts must look to the totality of the circumstances to determine if a stop was justified.
At approximately 9:30 PM, a police officer observed Post’s vehicle weaving “in a smooth ‘S-type’ pattern” within a single lane of traffic. The lane was approximately 22-24 feet wide because it contained a traffic lane and a parking lane. There was no line or marking delineating the traffic lane from the parking lane. The vehicle drifted approximately 10 feet from right to left within the lane. The officer further noted that Post’s vehicle was “canted,” meaning it was driving partially in the parking lane.
Both the State and Post asked the court to adopt bright-line rules supporting their positions. The State argued that weaving within a single lane, by itself, provides the requisite reasonable suspicion for a stop. In contrast, Post argued that movements within a lane must be erratic, unsafe, or illegal to give rise to the reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop. The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected both bright-line rules.
In reaching its decision, the court reaffirmed “the well-established principle that reviewing courts must determine whether there was reasonable suspicion for an investigative stop based on the totality of the circumstances.” The court relied on State v. Waldner, where the defendant drove slowly, paused at an intersection without a stoplight or sign, accelerated quickly, and poured liquid and ice from a cup. 206 Wis. 2d 51, 556 N.W.2d 681 (1996). While each of the facts alone might have been insufficient to provide reasonable suspicion, cumulatively they were sufficient to support an inference that the driver was driving while intoxicated.
Similarly, the court looked to the totality of the circumstances in Post’s case. It explained that the incident took place at night; Post’s car was canted into the parking lane, was not in the designated traffic lane, and weaved in a discernable S-type pattern. Here, the totality of the circumstances presented specific and articulable facts giving rise to the reasonable suspicion necessary for an investigative stop. Accordingly, the stop did not violate Post’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Thus, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that weaving within a single traffic lane does not alone give rise to the reasonable suspicion necessary to conduct an investigative stop. However, under the totality of the circumstances here, the officer presented specific and articulable facts, which taken together with rational inferences from those facts, gave rise to the reasonable suspicion necessary for an investigative stop.
State v. Bruski, 2007 WI 25, 727 N.W.2d 503
Holding: Defendant lacked standing to assert a Fourth Amendment claim because he failed to prove that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in either the vehicle where police found him or in the travel case inside the vehicle.
Police responded to a call about a suspicious vehicle and occupant parked behind a residence. An officer discovered Bruski passed out in the driver’s seat of the vehicle. The officer had difficulty understanding Bruski’s speech, but learned that Bruski had no idea how he had arrived at his current location. Bruski never admitted operating the vehicle. The officer determined that the vehicle was registered to Ms. Smith, called her, and she came to the scene. Smith speculated that her daughter may have lent the vehicle to Bruski and was concerned about the location of her daughter. Bruski said that he knew “Jessica” but did not know her last name. Smith wanted to take possession of her vehicle but did not have the keys. She asked Bruski for the keys but he said he did not have them. The officer began searching the vehicle for the keys without asking Smith for permission to search the vehicle. The officer discovered a travel case in the vehicle and opened it. Both Ms. Smith and Bruski were standing within view of the vehicle’s interior when the officer was searching and neither said anything when the officer opened the case. Inside the travel case, the officer found marijuana and other drug paraphernalia. Smith said she had never seen the case before and the officer arrested Bruski. The officer searched Bruski incident to arrest and discovered methamphetamine, a large knife, Jessica’s cell phone, and keys for Smith’s vehicle.
The State charged Bruski with possession of methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, THC, and a concealed weapon. Bruski filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in the travel case and incident to his arrest, arguing that the police violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches.
The supreme court addressed whether Bruski, who was passed out in another person’s vehicle, is entitled to Fourth Amendment protections related to the search of the travel case inside the vehicle. The court noted that to have a Fourth Amendment claim, the propenent must satisfy two requirements: First, the search must have been done by a government agent. That was satisfied here. Second, an individual must have standing. The proponent of a Fourth Amendment claim bears the burden of proving that he or she had a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Whether an individual had a reasonable expectation of privacy in an area subjected to a search depends on two prongs. First, whether the individual’s conduct exhibited an actual (i.e., subjective) expectation of privacy in the area searched and the item seized. Second, if the individual had the requisite expectation of privacy, courts determine whether such an expectation of privacy was legitimate or justifiable. The court concluded Bruski did nothing to indicate that he expected privacy related to the vehicle and his conduct indicated that he did not have an actual expectation of privacy. The court then held that even if Bruski did have an actual expectation of privacy, he still would not have a Fourth Amendment claim. It specifically noted that Bruski had no property interest in the vehicle, he took no precautions customarily associated with a person seeking privacy, he lacked the right to exclude others from the vehicle, and his claim of privacy in Smith’s vehicle is not consistent with historical notions of privacy. Thus, even if Bruski did have an actual expectation of privacy in Smith’s vehicle, it was not a legitimate or justifiable one based on the totality of the circumstances.
The court next addressed whether a person may have a reasonable expectation of privacy in personal property found inside a vehicle when he or she does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle. The court noted that this issue has not been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court and is a matter of first impression in Wisconsin. While some courts have held that an individual who does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a vehicle cannot have a reasonable expectation of privacy in personal property inside the vehicle, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected adopting such a bright-line rule. The court stated that it is obligated to look at all the facts and circumstances of each case in light of principles set forth in prior decisions. The court noted two principles that were especially pertinent in resolving Bruski’s case. First, there is a lesser expectation of privacy for personal property found in vehicles than for personal property found in a home. Second, neither ownership nor possession of an item alone establishes a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Applying these principles, the court held that Bruski lacked standing to assert a Fourth Amendment claim because he failed to prove that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in either the vehicle in which the police found his travel case or the travel case itself.
State v. Muckerheide, 2007 WI 5, 725 N.W.2d 930
Holding: In a homicide by intoxicated use case, the defendant asserted an affirmative defense that the passenger victim grabbed the steering wheel just prior to the crash. Evidence that the victim grabbed the steering wheel of another vehicle on a prior occasion was properly excluded because it was not relevant. The court of appeals did not err in refusing to apply the case law of another jurisdiction. Finally, there was no violation of Muckerheide’s constitutional right to present a defense.
After drinking beer and using cocaine, Muckerheide and a passenger were traveling to a tavern when Muckerheide’s vehicle hit a parked construction trailer. The accident killed Muckerheide’s passenger. Muckerheide was convicted of homicide by use of a motor vehicle while having a prohibited blood alcohol concentration, contrary to Wis. Stat. §§ 940.09(1)(b) and (1c)(b)(2002-04). He offered a defense under Wis. Stat. §940.09(2)(a) claiming that the victim would have been killed even if he had been exercising due care and had not been under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Muckerheide testified that his passenger grabbed the steering wheel just prior to the accident, and that he was trying to counter steer the vehicle when it struck the construction trailer. To support this defense at trial, he sought to enter testimony by the victim’s father that the victim was a nervous passenger who had, on several prior occasions, gestured toward the steering wheel, and, on one occasion during the previous year, had grabbed the steering wheel while his father was driving. The trial court refused to admit the father’s testimony of the victim’s other acts.
Muckerheide presented three issues for review by the supreme court: 1) whether the court of appeals erred in holding the other acts evidence offered by the victim’s father was inadmissible; 2) whether the court of appeals erred when it decided not to apply case law from another jurisdiction; and 3) whether Muckerheide’s constitutional right to present a defense was violated.
1) Both parties agreed that State v. Sullivan, 216 Wis. 2d 768, 576 N.W.2d 30 (1998) is the proper framework for determining the admissibility of other acts evidence. Among the requirements of Sullivan, a court must determine whether the other acts evidence is relevant under Wis. Stat. § 904.01. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the testimony from the victim’s father was properly excluded because it lacked relevance. It agreed with the State’s argument that the one occasion on which the victim allegedly grabbed the wheel of his father’s vehicle was dissimilar to the occasion in which the victim allegedly grabbed the wheel of Muckerheide’s vehicle. The court specifically noted that on the alleged prior occasion there was no evidence that the victim had been drinking or using drugs, as Muckerheide alleged in this instance. Further, there was no evidence that the victim ever grabbed the steering wheel when riding with Muckerheide on occasions prior to the accident. Due to these dissimilarities, the court concluded that “Muckerheide’s offered other acts evidence does not make a consequential fact more or less probable.” Thus, the evidence was not relevant and was properly excluded.
2) Next, the supreme court rejected Muckerheide’s argument that the court of appeals erred in deciding not to apply case law from another jurisdiction. Muckerheide cited a case from Washington with similar facts involving grabbing a steering wheel and argued that when Wisconsin law is unclear, Wisconsin courts should consider the case law of other jurisdictions. The supreme court reaffirmed that cases from other jurisdictions are not binding in Wisconsin and held that the court of appeals did not err in deciding not to follow the decision.
3) Finally, the supreme court concluded that there was no violation of Muckerheide’s constitutional right to present a defense. It noted that there is no abridgement on the defendant’s right to present a defense, so long as the rules of evidence used to exclude the evidence are not arbitrary or disproportionate to the purposes for which they are designed. State v. St. George, 2002 WI 50, 252 Wis. 2d 499, 643 N.W.2d 777. The court held that Muckerheide had the opportunity to present his defense. It noted that he testified that the accident occurred because the victim grabbed the steering wheel, and “the only evidence the jury did not hear was the minimally probative evidence that, on prior occasions with a different driver, under different circumstances, [the victim] had gestured toward or grabbed the steering wheel.”
In summary, the proposed other acts evidence was properly excluded because it was not relevant, the court of appeals did not err in refusing to apply the case law of another jurisdiction, and there was no violation of Muckerheide’s constitutional right to present a defense.