State Troopers can legally stop you if you toss a
cigarette butt or other litter onto the road.
Smokers, beware. The Wisconsin Supreme Court says state
troopers can legally stop you if you toss your cigarette
butts on the road.
handed down the decision Wednesday in a case involving
Daniel S. Iverson of Amery. According to court filings,
Iverson was driving in La Crosse during the early morning
hours on a January day in 2014 when a state trooper noticed
his vehicle drift within its lane and stop at two yellow
pulled Iverson over after Iverson's passenger tossed a
cigarette butt out the window, a violation of the state's
littering laws. The trooper ultimately cited Iverson for
first-offense drunken driving.
judge dismissed the case, saying stopping Iverson for
littering was an improper pretext since the passenger threw
the butt out. A state appellate court affirmed the dismissal
but on different grounds, ruling that police can't stop
vehicles for non-traffic violations such as littering.
attorneys appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.
insisted his citations can't stand because the trooper
lacked the legal authority to stop him based on the
non-traffic-related littering law. He also argued that law
prohibits depositing solid waste but a cigarette butt
doesn't meet the statute's definition of solid waste.
attorney, Joe Veenstra, submitted an affidavit saying he
sees hundreds of discarded cigarette butts around his La
Crosse office and he's never heard of anyone being cited.
court rejected Iverson's contentions and reversed the
appellate court in a 6-0 decision.
law clearly grants state troopers the authority to enforce
the littering law as well as the power to arrest someone
regardless of whether the violation is punishable by
forfeiture, like littering, or criminal penalty, the
appellate court's decision, police couldn't do anything even
if someone threw an entire bag of garbage out a vehicle's
window since littering is a non-traffic civil forfeiture,
Iverson's argument that a cigarette isn't solid waste, the
court noted the littering law's definitions include
"discarded materials." That's a broad term, the
justices said, and they shouldn't limit it to omit
justices also said Veenstra's affidavit doesn't persuade
them that tossing cigarette butts on a highway is a minor
offense. The cumulative effect of litter is exactly why
littering is a problem, they said.
sent the case back to the circuit level for trial. Veenstra
said he thinks the solid waste statute is confusing.
average person might not think tossing a cigarette butt is a
reason to be pulled over," he said. "People should
definitely be aware if somebody in your car throws a
cigarette butt out, the police can stop you and you
shouldn't do it."