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State v. Wright

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

April 30, 2019

State of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
John Patrick Wright, Defendant-Respondent.

          Submitted on Briefs: oral argument: January 16, 2 019

         REVIEW OF DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS REPORTED AT 383 WIS. 2D 602, 918 N.W.2D 128

          Circuit Court Milwaukee county (L.C. No. 2016CM2845) Hannah C. Dugan Judge. REVIEW of a decision of the Court of Appeals.

          For the plaintiff-appellant-petitioner, there were briefs filed by David H. Perlman, assistant attorney general, with whom on the briefs is Brad D. Schimel, attorney general. There was an oral argument by David H. Perlman.

          For the defendant-respondent, there was a brief filed by Carly M. Cusack, assistant state public defender. There was an oral argument by Carly M. Cusack.

          SHIRLEY S. ABRAHAMSON, J.

         ¶1 This is a review of an unpublished decision of the court of appeals affirming an order of the Circuit Court for Milwaukee County, Hannah Dugan, Judge, granting John Patrick Wright's motion to suppress evidence.[1] The appeal was decided by one judge, Joan F. Kessler, pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 752.31(2) (f) (2015-16).[2]

         ¶2 John Patrick Wright, the defendant, was charged with unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon in violation of Wis.Stat. § 941.23(2). The weapon was discovered in Wright's vehicle's glove compartment during a traffic stop. Wright did not hold a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon, commonly referred to as a CCW permit.

         ¶3 Wright filed a motion to suppress the evidence. Wright admitted that the traffic stop was lawfully initiated because it was supported by reasonable suspicion that Wright was violating the traffic code.

         ¶4 Wright argued, however, that the police violated the Fourth Amendment by taking three actions unsupported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity: (1) the police asked Wright whether he had a weapon in the vehicle; (2) the police asked Wright whether he held a permit to carry a concealed weapon; and (3) the police verified whether Wright in fact had a valid CCW permit (a CCW permit check).

         ¶5 The circuit court, relying on Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015), held that the officer unlawfully extended the traffic stop by asking Wright whether he had a weapon in the vehicle and whether he held a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The court of appeals affirmed, adopting the same reasoning as the circuit court.

         ¶6 The case presents three Fourth Amendment issues: (1) in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, may an officer ask a lawfully stopped motorist about the presence of weapons; (2) in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, may an officer ask a lawfully stopped motorist whether the motorist holds a CCW permit; and (3) in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, may an officer conduct a CCW permit check.

         ¶7 We conclude that, in the instant case, none of the officer's questions or actions violated the Fourth Amendment.

         ¶8 A traffic stop constitutes a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes.[3] The United States Supreme Court has described a routine traffic stop as more akin to a Terry[4] stop than a formal arrest. It has held that, like a Terry stop, "the tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure's 'mission'-to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns."[5]

         ¶9 The "mission" of a traffic stop includes: (1) addressing the traffic violation that warranted the stop; (2) conducting ordinary inquiries incident to the stop; and (3) taking negligibly burdensome precautions to ensure officer safety.[6] Authority for the seizure ends when these tasks are, or reasonably should have been, completed.[7]

         ¶10 This is not to say, however, that police action unrelated to the traffic stop's mission necessarily violates the Fourth Amendment. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has recognized "that the Fourth Amendment tolerate[s] certain unrelated investigations that [do] not lengthen the roadside detention."[8] In other words, "[t]he seizure remains lawful only 'so long as [unrelated] inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.'"[9]

         ¶11 We conclude that Wright's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated when the officer asked Wright about the presence of weapons in the vehicle. As this court stated in State v. Floyd, 2017 WI 78, ¶28 377 Wis.2d 394, 898 N.W.2d 560, questioning a lawfully stopped motorist about the presence of weapons relates to officer safety and is negligibly burdensome. The question is part of the traffic stop's mission.[10]

         ¶12 Neither the officer's question nor the subsequent CCW permit check "measurably extend[ed] the duration of the [traffic] stop."[11] Thus, neither the officer's questioning whether Wright held a CCW permit, nor the officer's subsequent CCW permit check, violated the Fourth Amendment.

         ¶13 Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals, vacate the circuit court's order granting Wright's motion to suppress, and remand the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings.

         I

         ¶14 The following facts are taken from the transcript of the evidentiary hearing on Wright's motion to suppress, as well as the transcript of the circuit court's oral decision granting Wright's motion.

         ¶15 On June 15, 2016, Milwaukee Police Officers Jesus Gloria and Kristopher Sardina stopped Wright's car because the passenger-side headlight was out.

         ¶16 While Officer Gloria approached the passenger-side window of Wright's vehicle, Officer Sardina approached the driver's-side window and made contact with Wright. Officer Sardina asked Wright for his driver's license, asked whether he was a CCW permit holder, and asked whether Wright had any weapons in the car. Officer Sardina testified on cross-examination that although he does not recall how many questions he asked or the order in which he asked them, all of these questions usually "come pretty fast" after he makes initial contact with a motorist.

         ¶17 Wright responded to the officer that he had just finished the CCW permit class and that he did have a firearm in his vehicle.[12] Officer Sardina asked Wright if the officers had his permission to remove the firearm from the vehicle for the duration of the stop. Wright consented, stating that the firearm was in the glove compartment; Officer Gloria retrieved the firearm.[13]

         ¶18 Officer Sardina took Wright's license and went back to the squad car to "run [Wright's] information."[14] During this time, Officer Sardina also ran a CCW permit check to see if Wright was a valid CCW permit holder. Officer Sardina discovered that Wright did not have a valid CCW permit. Officer Sardina then arrested Wright under suspicion of unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon. Wright was later charged with unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon in violation of Wis.Stat. § 941.23(2).

         ¶19 Wright moved to suppress the gun evidence, and, after an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court granted Wright's motion. The circuit court concluded, relying on Rodriguez, that asking the CCW permit question and the question about the presence of weapons unlawfully extended the traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

         ¶20 The State appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals, relying on Rodriguez, concluded that asking the CCW permit question and the question about the presence of weapons unlawfully extended the traffic stop. Although the State briefed the application of this court's decision in State v. Floyd, 2017 WI 78, ¶28, 377 Wis.2d 394, 898 N.W.2d 560');">898 N.W.2d 560, a decision that was released after the circuit court's decision but before the court of appeals' decision, the court of appeals failed to address Floyd.

         ¶21 The State petitioned this court for review.

         II

         ¶22 Whether evidence should be suppressed is a question of constitutional fact.[15] When presented with a question of constitutional fact, this court engages in a two-step inquiry. "First, we review the circuit court's findings of historical fact under the clearly erroneous standard. Second, we independently apply constitutional principles to these historical facts."[16] Ill

         ¶23 The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable seizures.[17] A traffic stop constitutes a seizure for constitutional purposes, and" [a] seizure for a traffic violation justifies a police investigation into that violation."[18] The United States Supreme Court has characterized a routine traffic stop as more akin to a Terry stop than to a formal arrest. It has held that, like a Terry stop, "the tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure's 'mission'-to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns. "[19]

         ¶24 The "mission" of a traffic stop includes: (1) addressing the traffic violation that warranted the stop; (2) conducting ordinary inquiries incident to the stop;[20] and (3) taking negligibly burdensome precautions to ensure officer safety.[21] Authority for the seizure ends when these tasks are, or reasonably should have been, completed.[22]

         ¶25 Because traffic stops are "especially fraught with danger to police officers, "[23] the Supreme Court has explained that "an officer may need to take certain negligibly burdensome precautions in order to complete his mission safely."[24] Indeed, the Supreme Court has stated that the Fourth Amendment categorically authorizes the police to order the driver[25] and all passengers[26] out of ...


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