The Legality of OWI Traffic Stops and Searches in Wisconsin
Illegal Traffic Searches in Wisconsin | Know your rights
If you are stopped for a suspected OWI in Wisconsin, the police may search you or your vehicle. But depending on the circumstances, you may be able to argue that the search or even the stop itself was illegal. Understanding your rights can mean the difference between a conviction for OWI or other offenses, or being able to get the case thrown out.
Does the Officer Have Probable Cause?
Before a police officer can search you or your vehicle, he or she needs to have probable cause. This means there must be a reason to suspect you committed a crime of some kind. The way to establish this is vague in the Wisconsin statutes, which gives the police officer a lot of room to interpret. It can include the way you behave or look or even smell; if there is a reason to suspect you are doing something wrong, the officer can conduct a search of you or your vehicle.
On the other hand, there are limits. If you were driving safely without speeding or swerving, the stop itself may have been illegal. There must be some evidence of breaking a traffic law, or what’s called “reasonable suspicion,” before you can be pulled over. Wisconsin does not even allow sobriety checkpoints like many other states do; there must be something about your individual driving that made the police officer suspect something was going on.
Cooperate First, and Challenge Later
Of course, you should not argue with the police officer. An officer might interpret belligerence as a reason to do field sobriety tests or to search you or your vehicle. If you are pulled over, you should listen and do what the officer asks. Do not admit to any guilt; do not consent to any searches. Questions as simple as “Do you know why I pulled you over?” can be used later to justify a search.
If you are arrested after a stop or search of your vehicle, do not be argumentative, but request to speak to a lawyer. Eisenberg Law Offices will examine your case and help defend your rights.