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Wisconsin Appeals Court upholds DUI stop based on cautious driving

Last week, we wrote about the Wisconsin man who was convicted of DUI despite the fact that he was never pulled over and no one even saw him driving. The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the ruling based solely on evidence from an electronic monitoring device the man was wearing.

Last month, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld another DUI conviction even though it appears to violate the Fourth Amendment and probable cause. A man was stopped by police for suspected drunk driving because he was actually driving too carefully.

The incident occurred in the village of West Salem, which is near La Crosse. One night around 12:44 am, a police officer noticed a man driving his pickup with an abundance of caution. At two consecutive intersections, the man slowed to a complete stop before proceeding even though there were no stop signs and there was no other traffic nearby.

The officer took this as probable cause based on a "drunk driving course" he had taken. He pulled the man over and conducted the usual tests. The man was charged with and later convicted of DUI.

He appealed the ruling and filed a motion to suppress evidence. He argued that the traffic stop was not justified because his driving was not illegal or unsafe. It was not even reasonably suspicious.

He also cited precedent from an earlier Court of Appeals ruling that said a 5 to 10-second stop at an intersection with no stop sign did not warrant reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop.

The judge ultimately ruled that one unexplained stop may have been ok. However, it was the second unexplained stop that gave the officer probable cause to pull him over. Therefore, the DUI conviction was upheld.

The man may have been legally drunk. But by the officer's own admission, he was driving extra cautiously in an area with no other cars around. If driving with an abundance of caution is grounds for a traffic stop in Wisconsin, what reasonable protections do any of us have?

Source:, "Wisconsin Appeals Court Makes Cautious Driving a Crime," July 25, 2011

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