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Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Use Of Evidence Obtained By Officers Rendering Assistance; Van Hollen Praises Decisions Positive Impact On Law Enforcement Officer Safety

 

"Law enforcement officers not only protect citizens from criminals, but also render community assistance in many other ways," says Van Hollen.  "The Fourth Amendment doesn't require those officers to drop their guard and risk giving someone a free shot while performing a community caretaker function, or to ignore evidence of crime when they see it."

 

MADISON:  Adopting arguments made by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held today that a Columbia County sheriff's deputy performed a proper "community caretaker" function when he approached a parked vehicle to determine if the driver needed assistance.  While speaking with the driver, Todd Lee Kramer, the deputy saw that Kramer appeared intoxicated.  Kramer was arrested and eventually convicted of driving while intoxicated.

 

At trial, Kramer sought to suppress evidence of his intoxication, arguing in pertinent part that the deputy had no legal justification to stop and question Kramer.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed, holding that under both the United States and Wisconsin Constitutions, law enforcement officers perform a legitimate "community caretaker" function when they approach what appears to be a stalled vehicle and decide to investigate to determine whether the driver needs assistance.

 

Significantly, the court also held that law enforcement officers need not rule out any possibility of criminal activity before they decide to investigate in their role as community caretakers.  According to the court, "[t]o conclude otherwise would ignore the multifaceted nature of police work and force police officers to let down their guard and unnecessarily expose themselves to dangerous conditions."  The court also cited statistics showing the high number of law enforcement officers injured or killed during traffic stops.

 

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen praised the decision and its positive impact on law enforcement officer safety.  "Law enforcement officers not only protect citizens from criminals, but also render community assistance in many other ways," said Van Hollen.  "The Fourth Amendment doesn't require those officers to drop their guard and risk giving someone a free shot while performing a community caretaker function, or to ignore evidence of crime when they see it."

 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision and opinion in State of Wisconsin v. Todd Lee Kramer, No. 2007AP1834-CR, may be found on the court's website:

http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=35393

 

Assistant Attorney General Sarah K. Larson represented the State of Wisconsin in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  The Columbia County District Attorney's Office prosecuted the case at the circuit court level