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Wisconsin Supreme Court delivers questionable DUI ruling

If you were sitting in your vehicle and a police officer approached and clearly intended to talk to you, would you drive away? Most of us would automatically respond “no way.” Even if you aren’t doing anything illegal, the act of driving away seems suspicious and could potentially get you into trouble.

But earlier this summer, a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that unless they were specifically pulled over, drivers are free to ignore an officer knocking on their window and motioning for them to roll it down. The Court upheld the drunk driving conviction of a Wisconsin man who did what most of us would do in such a situation. He complied with the police officer.

The incident occurred in the early hours of Christmas Day in 2011. A man and his female passenger were sitting in a running car in the parking lot of a public park. The park had closed at 11 p.m., so the officer was suspicious of a car in the lot at 2 a.m.

The officer parked behind the suspicious car and kept the car’s headlights on (but not his red and blue emergency lights). He walked up to the car, knocked on the driver’s-side window and motioned to roll the window down. The officer later testified that he would have let the man drive away because he “had nothing to stop him for.”

The defendant later said he could not have driven off without hitting the deputy. He also assumed (as most of us would) that driving off would have been illegal. Since he felt compelled to comply, he rolled down his window. The officer smelled alcohol, and the man was eventually arrested for driving under the influence.

In a 5-2 vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the DUI conviction, saying that the initial interaction with the officer was voluntary. Thankfully, Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson was not shy about giving her dissenting opinion.

She wrote: "The world of legal decisions does not reflect the real world. No reasonable person I can imagine would feel free to drive away under the circumstances of the present case . . . A reasonable person would be concerned that driving away could be viewed as violating some law that governs obstructing an officer, disobeying an officer, or fleeing.”

Source: TheNewspaper.com, “Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Driving Away From Cop At Window,” July 25, 2014

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