Court Watch

Judge Overrules Traffic Stop Arrest

Milwaukee police officers had no grounds for interrogating driver, appeals judge rules.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Jun 18th, 2018 01:40 pm
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Judge Joan Kessler

Judge Joan Kessler

Milwaukee police acted improperly when they questioned a driver they pulled over because his car had a broken tail light about whether he had a concealed carry permit and whether he had any weapons in his car, an appeals court has ruled.

While the traffic stop was justifiable, there was nothing in driver John Patrick Wright‘s demeanor that supported any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, Appeals Judge Joan F. Kessler wrote in her decision.

Kessler affirmed a ruling by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Hannah Dugan.

Wright, who is African-American, was stopped by two officers while driving on the city’s north side in July 2016.

“Wright was asked whether he had a concealed carry permit and whether he had any weapons in the car,” Kessler wrote. “Wright answered that he recently took a CCW permit course and admitted that he had a firearm in the car.”

One of the officers, Jesus Gloria, found a handgun in the glove compartment. Wright was arrested and charged with misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon.

Wright filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that questioning him about the CCW permit and whether he had a gun violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

“Wright argued that police lacked reasonable suspicion to question him about a CCW permit and weapons in the car, the questions were unrelated to the purpose of the traffic stop, and the police conduct transformed an initially lawful stop into an unreasonable seizure,” Kessler wrote.

The second officer involved in the stop, Kristopher Sardina, testified during a motion on the hearing that Wright pulled over immediately when police indicated he should do so and that Wright did not make any furtive gestures. Sardina also testified that officers are trained to ask about weapons during traffic stops.

Kessler rejected the state’s argument that the officers had a legitimate safety interest and therefore did not unlawfully extend the traffic stop. Previous courts have ruled that questioning during traffic stops can be expanded beyond the reason for the stop only if their are additional legitimate “suspicious factors.” Those factors were lacking in Wright’s case, she said.

“Nonetheless, the State contends that Sardina’s questions were lawful because they were negligibly burdensome and did not add much time to the traffic stop,” Kessler wrote. “The State misses the point. Authority for Sardina’s seizure ended when he reasonably could have issued a citation for Wright’s traffic violation. …Wright was questioned and subsequently arrested with absolutely no articulated reason for Sardina to be concerned for officer safety.”

“Sardina’s testimony confirms nothing about the circumstances of the traffic stop or about Wright which justified inquiry about a firearm,” she concluded.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.

5 thoughts on “Court Watch: Judge Overrules Traffic Stop Arrest”

  1. DAG999 says:

    Someone needs to rethink this Judge’s job. It has always been a given that an Officers safety is important. That is why, even when they talk to you, they “ask” you to remove your hands from your pockets (Sorry Sterling BROWN) so that they can see what you are doing with them or if you have something in your pocket that could be used as a weapon. It’s even more important when it comes to a car. Maybe their mistake was asking them if he had a permit first — in an attempt to make sure they didn’t hurt the driver’s tender feelings and possibly accuse him of having one illegally before they asked if he had a weapon. Over the years, things like how a person stopped for even minor offenses can “lunge” for weapons has been debated, and generally ruled in favor of the Police.

    Perhaps Judge JOAN KESSLER should stop hiding behind metal detectors in her place of work and Courtrooms…and allow ANYONE to carry guns in her Courtrooms–unknowing if they have a permit or not– to do so . I wonder if she would have the same “opinion” if she wasn’t protected by armed guards all day long.

  2. PMD says:

    I’ve been pulled over for an expired license plate and a broken taillight. Yet I was not asked if I had a concealed carry permit or a firearm in my vehicle. Couldn’t possibly be due to the fact that I’m white. The way some people defend police officers no matter what as if they are infallible is a joke. And Brown’s hands were out of his pockets repeatedly. As if his hands in his pockets justifies tasing and beating him. Too many racists out there.

  3. Mary Kay Wagner says:

    Judge Kessler got it right (as did the lower court judge). The officer could offer no reasonable suspicion that justified extending the traffic stop. It becomes apparent that the only factor that was “threatening” the officer, was the color of Wright’s skin. We’ve accepted that justification (wrongly) too long. It must stop and stop now.

  4. Kevin says:

    Wait, what? He had a permit. Doesn’t that automatically make him a GGWG? Oh, right, that’s only if you’re white, eh DAG999? Just ask Philando Castile.

  5. walter m stawicki says:

    The reason i stopped you today,………… but since I’m here, do you have any guns, open liquor, illegal drugs, child pornography, anti-american literature illegal plant material or out of state vegetables…..?

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