Generally, a police officer may not lawfully stop a vehicle unless the officer reasonably believes or suspects that the driver of the vehicle committed a traffic violation or a crime. Additionally, if an officer violates a driver’s rights by stopping the driver without just cause, the State may be barred from using evidence obtained during the stop to demonstrate that the officer committed a crime. There are some exceptions to the rule, though, as shown in a recent case in which a New Jersey appellate court affirmed a defendant’s conviction for DWI that arose out of a community-caretaking stop. If you live in New Jersey and are charged with a DWI offense, it is smart to speak with a diligent New Jersey DWI defense attorney about what evidence the State could be permitted to use against you.
Facts of the Case
It is alleged that a police officer dispatched to a convenience store following a call from the store’s manager in which she reported that a patron who appeared to have been the victim of an assault was sitting in a car in the parking lot. When the officer arrived at the convenience store to do a welfare check, he observed the defendant driving out of the parking lot in a visibly upset condition. As such, the officer stopped the defendant’s vehicle to check on the defendant’s condition, as he believed she may have been the victim of domestic violence. After speaking with the defendant, the officer determined that she may have been under the influence of alcohol. The defendant was ultimately charged with DWI. Prior to trial, she filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the stop, which the court denied. She pled guilty while reserving her right to appeal the denial of her motion to suppress. Following her sentencing, she appealed.
Evidence Obtained During a Community Caretaking Stop
The sole issue on appeal was whether the underlying stop of the defendant was unlawful. Generally, an officer may not initiate a stop unless the officer has an articulable and reasonable suspicion that the driver of the vehicle is violating the law, usually by committing a traffic violation. In the subject case, the State did not assert that the arresting officer observed the defendant violating a law prior to stopping the defendant but instead argued that the stop was lawful under the community-caretaking function of law enforcement. Continue reading