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City of Milwaukee v. Nelson

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
439 N.W.2d 562 (1989)


Milwaukee City Ordinance 106-31(1)(a) (the Ordinance) prohibits loitering or prowling “in a place, at a time, or in a matter not usual for law-abiding individuals under circumstances that warrant alarm for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity.” Certain factors may be considered when deciding whether alarm is justified, including flight, failure to identify oneself, and attempts to hide oneself or objects. However, a police officer must give a suspect the chance to explain why alarm is unwarranted before arrest. Police saw Nelson (defendant) on the street in front of a tavern. The officers watched him shake hands in a friendly manner with a number of pedestrians and automobile passengers, though the police did not see any exchange of money or objects. The officers approached Nelson, and he rushed into the tavern. The officers returned to their post a block away and saw Nelson come back outside and continue shaking hands with people. Again, the police approached the tavern, and Nelson went inside. The police followed Nelson inside and asked him what he had been doing outside. Nelson replied that he was doing “nothing.” Nelson was patted down, but no weapon was found. Nelson was arrested for violating the Ordinance and was brought to the police station in a police van. The van was later searched, and a handgun was discovered, which Nelson admitted was his, that he had hidden it in his pants, and that it was stolen. Nelson was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. In a separate case, Nelson pleaded guilty to the loitering offense. However, in relation to the concealed-weapon charge, Nelson moved to suppress the evidence obtained from an illegal arrest, arguing that the loitering ordinance was unconstitutional.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Day, J.)

Dissent (Abrahamson, J.)

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