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Probable Cause + 2 Ways Police Can Stop You for a Drug Charge in Wisconsin

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If you are caught with narcotics or perscription drugs, your charge can be dropped if the police did not follow proper protocol. Contact Grieve Law for a free initial consultation.

Know What to do During a Police Stop

One of the most important legal questions about your entire case is whether or not the officers made legal contact with you. If they did not make legal contact with you, for example they conducted an illegal traffic stop, or an illegal stop and search in the street, that could result in all of the evidence against you being suppressed.  If you are travelling in a car, then the three most common reasons for police stop come down to probable cause, reasonable suspicion and community caretaker doctrine. Let’s look at each one briefly. 

Probable Cause in Drug Charges

Probably the most common stop that police officers make on a day in day out basis across Wisconsin is the probable cause stop. An officer makes a probable cause stop when they have probable cause to believe that the driver has usually broken some kind of traffic law. A few common examples may include speeding, burned out tail light, an unregistered or suspended license plate, etc. Basically any time the officers have probable cause to believe that someone is violating Wisconsin’s traffic laws, they may have probable cause for pulling someone over to perform a traffic stop. In these cases, any issues surrounding the stop will boil down to whether or not the person actually was violating the traffic code. The fact that you did not know that your license plate was suspended or that your tail light was burned out, usually does not mean that the stop if illegal. So it is always important to make sure that all of the equipment in your car is working properly, not only for your own safety, but also to protect your constitutional rights. 

Reasonable Suspicion

A reasonable suspicion stop is when officers have reasonable suspicion to believe that an operator of a motor vehicle may be committing an offense. This reasonable suspicion cannot be based on a hunch alone and is usually taken together with a number of other factors. A common example might be if an officer at the close of bar watches somebody stagger slightly after leaving and walking to their car. They may seem to fumble with their keys a little bit too much when getting in and hang a little bit of a wide turn entering traffic from the parking lot. They may come to a bit of a screeching stop at the stop sign and then chirp their tires pulling away, all while weaving within their own lane. While none of those examples taken by themselves may be enough to give the officer reasonable suspicion, because it is legal to swerve within your own lane, if the officer takes everything together in what we call the ‘totality of the circumstances’ it may be enough for the officer to initiate a traffic stop under the reasonable suspicion standard. Reasonable suspicion stops, though more rare than a probable cause stop, need to be studied very closely by a qualified lawyer trained in criminal defense and drunk driving law. Most of the law needed to determine whether the stop was legal, is usually pretty obscure and difficult to find and know about. So if your fee to plea lawyer does not devote their practice to criminal defense and drunk driving defenses, then it is very possible that they may miss an illegal reasonable suspicion stop that leads to the case ending in your conviction and possibly jail time instead of a dismissal. 

Community Caretaker Standard

A very small percentage of Wisconsin stops take place under what is known as “community caretaker doctrine," otherwise known more simply has community caretaker. A community caretaker stop is when an officer makes contact with the car or individual while acting on their duties as a community caretaker. Perhaps the officer observed someone who may need medical attention or requires assistance because they look lost and are continuously circling the block while looking at a map. These and other examples of community caretaker in action allow law enforcement to contact people in the community to offer them assistance. However, this does not mean that if the officer becomes suspicious of something and develops enough probable cause to ultimately arrest someone, that the initial contact was illegal. If an officer makes contact with somebody on the side of the hfighway because it looks like their car broke down and then finds that that person’s car smells of alcohol and drugs, the officers are allowed to proceed with an investigation at that time. Community caretaker cases are usually quite rare. But they do happen every day. Very few attorneys are trained and experienced in community caretaker stop law. This is why it is extremely important that if you are facing a drunk driving or drug charge from a community caretaker stop, that you have the best attorneys possible to review the issues in your case. 

Fighting My Stop in Court

It is important to keep in mind that if you do challenge and fight the stop as being illegal in court, a jury will not decide the outcome. That is because under Wisconsin law a jury is a “trier of fact,” and they do not determine the law. Instead, the issue of your stop will be decided by a judge before any jury trial in your case. Your attorney will have the opportunity to likely cross-examine police officers and to present your case for the judge to hear. At these hearings, the government bears the burden of proof since the government, through law enforcement, are the ones who made the stop. But just like your case can be won at these hearings through effective and aggressive representation, your case can also be lost. An inexperienced fee-to-plea lawyer may not only botch and end up losing you what should have been a winning suppression hearing, but they may also jeopardize your case in any upcoming jury trial by fumbling through key parts of testimony and evidence that does more harm than good to your cause.

Contact the Milwaukee defense attorneys for a free consultation if you have been wrongly stopped by the police.

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