Community Caretakers or Overzealous Officers?

Community Caretakers or Overzealous Officers?

Unlike scenes portrayed in many television crime shows, police in real life must possess a warrant in order to detain a suspect unless operating under the community caretaker doctrine. As an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer could explain, this doctrine is only applicable in specific situations and within detailed boundaries.

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What is the community caretaker doctrine?

  • An exception to the common rule that detention executed without a warrant must be justified by reasonable and defensible suspicion that a crime has taken place or soon will take place.
  • The community caretaker doctrine can provide a basis for investigating certain DUI cases under the idea that authorities have a responsibility to aid troubled citizens and uphold public safety.

Formation of the Doctrine

  • The community caretaker doctrine was established for DUI cases where citizens needed assistance and officers needed to override common law in order to provide aid.
  • The founding case was in Montana.
  • A driver had driven his car to the side of the road, turning his headlights off but leaving the car engine running.
  • When a Montana law enforcement agent knocked on the driver’s window to investigate, he discovered that the driver was asleep and unresponsive to stimulus.
  • The officer opened the car door to investigate the scene further, and eventually realized that the driver was under the influence of alcohol.
  • The officer’s entry of the vehicle was permitted under the community caretaker doctrine, according to the Montana Supreme Court.

Boundaries of the Doctrine

The Montana Supreme Court set the following boundaries for community caretaker investigations:

  • A citizen must be in peril or in need of aid.
  • The police officer must be experienced and able to articulate the objective facts of the community caretaker situation in order to investigate.
  • If the law enforcement agent can fulfill the first two requirements, then he or she is allowed to take action to provide assistance to the citizen in peril.
  • After the peril is mitigated and the officer’s assistance is no longer needed, then the officer must halt action.
  • Any actions beyond those needed to protect and help the citizen are not allowed; a citizen’s rights are protected by the Fourth Amendment as well as sections of their state Constitution.

Law enforcement agents are charged with a difficult job—protecting citizens while appreciating civil freedoms—and sometimes overzealous officers inadvertently trample on individual rights.  If you feel that you have been victimized, call the Law Office of Mike Coffey Attorney at Lawand the Law Office of Mike Coffey Attorney at Lawtoday at (800) 706-7888 to see if their dedicated Orange County DUI lawyers can help you.