Court Upholds New Jersey DWI Conviction Arising Out of a Community-Caretaking Stop

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.

The appellate court explained that under the community-caretaking doctrine, an officer that has an objectively reasonable basis to believe that a driver may be suffering from a medical emergency or may otherwise be impaired may stop the driver’s vehicle to render aid or conduct a welfare check. A community-caretaking stop may be lawfully conducted without a warrant, and an officer does not have to wait until actual harm occurs before conducting the stop. In the subject case, the appellate court found that there was sufficient evidence to establish that the officer’s stop of the defendant was lawful under the community-caretaking doctrine. Thus, the appellate court affirmed the lower court ruling.

Speak to a Trusted New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney

If you were charged with a DWI offense after you were stopped by a police officer without just cause, you may be able to obtain a dismissal of your charges and should speak to an attorney. The trusted New Jersey DWI defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are skilled at helping DWI defendants fight to protect their rights, and we can aid you in striving for the best legal result possible under the circumstances. You can contact us at 877-450-8301 or through our form online to schedule a meeting.

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