Court: Officer could assume same woman drove in and out
A Hudson policeman was justified in inferring that a woman who drove out of a parking lot was the same one who drove in, parked and entered a store 10 minutes earlier, ruled an appeals court.
In a decision filed Tuesday, Wisconsin's District III Court of Appeals upheld St. Croix County Judge Scott Needham's decision to deny Silvia H. Heugel's motion to suppress evidence provided by Officer James VanDusen.
Heugel, 47, Hudson, had pleaded no contest to operating while intoxicated, second offense, after she was arrested Oct. 23, 2006, near a shopping center.
According to court records, at about 7:40 p.m. that evening a citizen called police to say she was following a maroon Dodge that crossed the centerline several times and nearly hit another car. The informant, a woman, followed the Dodge to a shopping center and continued to update police.
When VanDusen arrived, the informant pointed out the vehicle she'd been following and said the driver had gotten out and gone into a natural foods store.
The informant provided no further description of the driver, except that it was a woman. A few minutes after he arrived, although he couldn't later recall if he'd seen anyone get back into the Dodge, VanDusen saw the car backing out of the parking space.
He followed the vehicle and pulled it over at 7:52 p.m. outside the parking lot without seeing any driving irregularities.
While Heugel didn't disagree that the informant's tip would provide justification for the stop, she maintained that the parking of the car, and the gap in observation, negated the reason for the stop.
Heugel emphasized that neither the officer nor the informant saw whether the woman who got back into the vehicle came from the natural foods store and there was no description of the driver beyond her gender.
The appeals court concluded that it was reasonable for the officer to infer that the woman who drove the car out of the parking lot was the same one who had driven it in.
"Indeed," wrote the court, "given the typical course of events, this might be the most reasonable inference."
The court found there was no evidence that there was ever more than one person in the car.
While it acknowledged there might be plausible scenarios whereby a car driven to a store by one woman might be driven away by another, the appeals court maintained police don't have to "dispel every innocent explanation for behavior before initiating a traffic stop."