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Wisconsin courts dismiss evidence from DUI stop based on phone tip

Last month, we wrote about two recent examples where convictions for drunk driving were overturned because the arresting police officers did not have probable cause to make a traffic stop. If we did not have these protections in place, police officers could pull anyone over for any reason.

Another similar case was recently decided by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. It concerned a DUI traffic stop of a Wisconsin woman based solely on the suspicions of her angry ex-husband.

One night, a man from Walworth County called the sheriff's department to report on his ex-wife. He told the dispatcher that he had received a call from his cousin who had reportedly witnessed the woman leaving a bar at 10 pm with the couple's two young children.

Based on this report, the man told the dispatcher: "I think she's out there drinking and driving with my kids."

After an "attempt to locate" order was placed, an officer did pull over a car matching the description and license plate. Based on this stop, the 36-year-old woman was charged with "operating a motor vehicle with a detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance in her blood," according to court documents. It was not specified to be alcohol. This would have been a particularly harsh charge because she also had minors in the car with her.

But beyond the ex-husband's tip, there was no evidence of probable cause to warrant the traffic stop. The officer who made the stop did not notice erratic driving or other suspicious behavior.

Therefore, the trial judge granted a motion to suppress evidence. And earlier this month, the state Court of Appeals upheld the original ruling. Interestingly, both courts agreed that all parties had acted appropriately, including the ex-husband, the dispatcher and the arresting officer.

However, the state did not establish the very necessary burden of proof that the traffic stop was warranted. Therefore, the case was correctly dismissed.

Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "Ex-husband's suspicion not enough for valid stop," Bruce Vielmetti, Oct. 12, 2011

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