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Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds OWI Conviction; Court Rules That Even A Momentary Swerve To The Left Of Center Allows Police To Make A Traffic Stop

 

"This decision sends a clear message to drunk drivers," says Attorney General Van Hollen. "Law enforcement will find you, arrest you, and bring you to justice."

 

MADISON - This morning, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned a Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision that reversed Michael Popke's conviction for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, as a third offense.

 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that by making a brief swerve to the left of center, Popke provided police with probable cause to stop him for the traffic code violation of operating left of center, which in turn led police to discover that Popke had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.255 percent.  In reaching this decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court confirmed that even a momentary swerve left of center creates probable cause of a left of center violation, and thus allows police to make a traffic stop.

 

"Violating traffic laws and driving erratically is a signal to police that the driver may be driving drunk," said Attorney General Van Hollen, whose office handled the case for the State before the Supreme Court.  "Where there is probable cause to believe a driver is operating a vehicle while intoxicated, officers can and should make traffic stops.  This decision sends a clear message to drunk drivers.  Law enforcement will find you, arrest you, and bring you to justice."

 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court further held that police had reasonable suspicion that Popke was operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.  The officer saw Popke drive three-quarters of his vehicle left of the center of the road; then move back into the proper lane but almost hit the curb; then fade back towards the middle of the road and nearly strike a median all over the course of approximately one block at 1:30 a.m.   The court concluded that under these circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that Popke was operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. 

 

The decision and opinion of the Wisconsin Supreme Court appears on the court's website:


http://wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.html?content=html&seqNo=36600

 

The Waupaca County District Attorney's Office represented the State of Wisconsin in Waupaca County Circuit Court and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.  Assistant Attorney General Mark A. Neuser represented the State in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.