The Wisconsin Supreme Court will decide when police can, and when they cannot, search a motorist’s car.
The high court this week agreed to hear five cases. Among them is the State of Wisconsin v. Alfonso Lorenzo Brooks. The case is based on Brooks’ 2015 arrest for having a gun while also being a felon.
Brooks’ appeal is predicated on what his attorney claims was an abuse by Milwaukee County deputies when they exercised “community caretaker” powers while searching his car during a traffic stop.
Deputies told the trial court and the appeals court that they stopped Brooks in August 2015 for speeding. That’s when they discovered that he had a suspended license. Because he didn’t have a license, deputies told Brooks to get out of the car and informed him that it was going to be towed. Brooks was free to leave, but deputies suggested he stay until the tow truck arrived. That’s when deputies say they conducted an “inventory search” ahead of the tow. That search turned up the gun, police said, and Brooks was arrested.
Brooks’ lawyers are arguing that deputies should have allowed him to leave the car as-is, where it was. They say the car was not illegally parked and was not a traffic hazard. Brooks told deputies during the stop that his girlfriend was on her way to get the car.
The Supreme Court said the issue before the court is just how broad Wisconsin’s “community caretaker” standard can go.
The appeals court that heard the case last said Brooks is claiming deputies could have allowed his car to stay where it was without searching it.
The court agreed, saying the deputies “could have allowed his girlfriend to pick up the car at a later time. But the Fourth Amendment does not require it.”
Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.