Police “Cry Wolf” and abuse the system to arrest for DUI

Police “Cry Wolf” and abuse the system to arrest for DUI

The RAMPANT overuse of the Community Caretaker Doctrine to arrest law-abiding citizens for DUI

The community caretaker doctrine is an exception to the general requirement of a warrantless detention must be based upon articulable and reasonable suspicion that a crime has transpired or is about to transpire. The Doctrine is intended for officers or emergency personnel to check on motorists that may be suffering from health related issues while behind the wheel of an automobile. The Courts sanction or allow the police, IN CERTAIN instances to help distressed citizens.

Implementation of the community caretaker doctrine in DUI cases

The community caretaker doctrine allows for the police to take action in any situation where a reasonable police officer would perceive the need to act for the public good or in order to come to the aid of a citizen in the officer perceives to be in danger. This doctrine, which is in effect an exception to the Fourth Amendment, is not generally defendant-friendly causing most states to issue limits on the doctrine. The implementation of the community caretaker doctrine in the context of drunk driving cases is demonstrated all across the great State of Florida in cases where the defendant was asleep on the side of the road with the engine running and the headlights turned off. A knock on the window by a police officer did not cause the defendant to awaken from his slumber and then prompted the officer to open the car door, whereupon he speculates that the defendant in an intoxicated state.

Because the police abuse their power and use this doctrine overzealously when not called for some state courts have limited the community caretaker doctrine by adopting guidelines or imposing certain thresholds. For example, guidelines were adopted for the caretaker doctrine in a Florida case where the court reversed the conviction of a drunk driver who was stopped by a trooper using the community caretaker exception. The Florida trooper first observed the defendant pull over to the shoulder of the road. It appeared to the trooper that the defendant’s wife was vomiting out of the open passenger side door. As the trooper pulled behind the defendant, the defendant pulled back onto the road and was eventually stopped by the police officer. The court found the stop and ultimate arrest of the driver for DUI , unwarranted. Court’s have adopted the guidelines in reviewing community caretaker detentions:

  • The nature and level of the distress exhibited by the individual.
  • The location of the individual.
  • Whether or not the individual was alone and/or had access to assistance independent of that offered by the officer.
  • To what extent the individual—if not assisted—presented a danger to himself or others

In addition, courts have expressed a three-pronged standard for reviewing community caretaker investigations by officers. First, a police officer has the right to stop and investigate a situation where he has objective, specific and articulable facts to believe that the citizen is in danger and needs immediate assistance. Second, if the officer determines that the citizen does in fact need assistance, he or she may proceed to take the appropriate actions necessary to provide the needed assistance or mitigate the danger. And finally,once the police officer has ensured that the citizen is no longer in harms way and believes that that individual no longer needs assistance, any further actions the officer take will constitute a seizure.

All too often, unscrupulous officers use the Community Caretaker Doctrine to “go fishing for probable cause”. The officers know that the vast majority of sleeping motorists typically involve some degree of alcohol or drug consumption and therefore rush straight past a citizens 4th and 14th Amendment Rights, open the car door and instantly assume that a DUI arrest is warranted. It is well settled under the Fourth (4th) and Fourteenth (14th) Amendments that a search conducted without a warrant issued upon probable cause is ‘per se unreasonable… subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 219 (1973). The State has the burden of showing that a warrantless search comes within one of the recognized exceptions. Reed v. State, 944 So.2d 1054, 1058 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2006). The five established exceptions to the warrant requirement are: “(1) consent, (2) incident to a lawful arrest, (3) with probable cause to search but with exigent circumstances, (4) in hot pursuit, and (5) stop and frisk. In recent months, law enforcement has increasing relied upon “exigent circumstances”, and more specifically, the “community caretaker doctrine” or “emergency aid exception” as the recognized exception to effectuate a search without a warrant.

In a recent court case in Sarasota County, the initial stopping police officer’s testified that because he saw a motorist, legally parked in a parking lot with the motor running for twenty (20) minutes, something was wrong and needed to check on that motorist. He then went on to testify that he called for backup 9a DUI officer) before he even made contact with the motorist. The best thing you can do if you are going to sleep in an automobile is put this absurd sign in you window that says: “POLICE OFFICER, I AM FINE, I AM TIRED, PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE, YOU DO NOT NEED TO CHECK ON ME UNDER THE COMMUNITY CARETAKER DOCTRINE“. As crazy as it may seem, it may save you from a warrant less seizure and arrest for DUI . If you or a loved one has been stopped and arrested for DUI , call DANIELS & HANNAN, today for a free case evaluation. (941) 932-8007 | 855- DUI -DOGG.