Leah R. Thomas
WISCONSIN POLICE CAN’T STOP A DRIVER FOR LITTERING, OR CAN THEY?
Whether police in Wisconsin can stop a vehicle for littering is unclear because of two opposing decisions from the Court of Appeals this month. In both cases, the defendants were charged with drunk driving, and defense counsel filed motions challenging whether the officers made a valid traffic stop based on littering (a cigarette butt) out of the car.
In the first case, the Court held that stopping the defendant's vehicle for littering was valid in the Village of Pleasant Prairie. The officer testified that a cigarette butt hit the windshield, he made a traffic stop for it, and ultimately arrested the driver for OWI/DUI. You can read more about the case at the On Point Blog by the Public Defender's Office.
In an opinion just two days later, the Court in the second case held that throwing a cigarette butt out of a vehicle window was not a valid basis for a traffic stop in La Crosse because it was not a crime or a traffic violation. Therefore, the OWI/DUI was dismissed. You can read more about the case at the On Point Blog.
The conclusion: the Supreme Court will likely take up the issue due to a conflict in these decisions, though no one has filed for it yet in these cases. In the meantime, don't throw cigarette butts (or anything else) out of your window. These are both unpublished, one-judge decisions.