- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A Wisner man’s constitutional rights were violated when a police officer stopped him to gather information about someone else’s possible criminal activity, then used the stop to convict him of drunken driving, the Nebraska Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Adam Woldt, 26, was convicted last year of first offense drunken driving. He was sentenced to six months’ probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Woldt was driving behind another truck that an officer pulled over in September 2013 while investigating an act of vandalism, according to court records. Woldt testified that the truck and officer’s open car door was blocking his path, so he began backing up to take a different route. The officer then held up his hand to signal Woldt to stop.

The officer testified that he wanted to ask Woldt if he had seen the other truck run over traffic cones on a Wisner street, but that he smelled alcohol when he got to Woldt’s pickup truck and began a DUI investigation. Woldt failed field sobriety tests and his blood alcohol content was measured at .148, which is nearly twice the legal driving limit.

Throughout his trial and appeal, Woldt argued that none of the evidence gathered after he was stopped should have been allowed. He contended that because the officer had no suspicion of criminal activity when he stopped Woldt, his constitutional right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure had been violated.

The appeals court agreed, even though it noted that “the degree of intrusion on Woldt’s liberty interest was not great.” It said the officer’s desire to question Woldt and his concern for public safety didn’t outweigh Woldt’s constitutional right.

Cuming County Attorney Dan Bracht didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Woldt’s attorney, Thomas Donner of West Point, said he was pleased by the ruling but hadn’t had a chance to read it or speak to Woldt yet.

“Our position going in was that a suspicionless, warrantless search was not supported by the evidence in the case,” Donner said.

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