The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted an article about this earlier in the week. If you have ever been stopped and guns, weapons, drugs or the like are found in your car, pay attention.
A common reason for police stopping drivers is for a defective taillight. That stop leads to a request to search the car and discovery of drugs or weapons.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed a lower court gun possession conviction by a narrow margin, finding that one unit light out of several lights in the wide tail panel of a 1977 Buick Electra did not amount to probable cause for a police stop in which a gun was later found.
The driver had been convicted of gun possession and sentenced to 3 years in prison.
Wisconsin Statutes require a vehicle to have at least one tail lamp that emits a red light visible to another vehicle traveling 500 feet behind it and prohibits operation of a vehicle at night when its tail lamps are not in good working order.
The Court found that a dime-size hole or crack in a lens didn’t affect tail lamp function and that many cars have multiple bulbs and are effective if a single bulb isn’t working. Because the statute did not define “in good working order”, the Court found that enough lights were working on the defendant’s car so that he was not in violation of the statute.
The gun evidence was suppressed due to the illegal stop and the prosecution dropped.
Dissenting judges felt that the ruling dilutes the meaning of “good working order” and will make law enforcement stops in similar circumstances very difficult.
It is important to have all facts and circumstances involving a police auto stop evaluated by a competent attorney.