Typically, the police must harbor a reasonable suspicion that a person is engaging in unlawful activity to effectuate a traffic stop. As such, if they stop a person without just cause, any evidence obtained during the stop may ultimately be deemed inadmissible, making it very difficult for the prosecution to prove the defendant committed any crime. As discussed in a recent opinion issued by a New Jersey Court in a DWI case, there is, thought, an exception for instances in which officers are acting in their community care taking role. If you are charged with a DWI offense, you should consult a skilled New Jersey DWI defense lawyer to assess your potential defenses.
The Defendant’s Arrest
It is reported that the police were dispatched following a 911 call that reported an SUV was stopped in a road near an intersection. The caller advised that she observed the vehicle for three minutes and noticed that the driver’s head was hanging down and he was not moving. She reported she called 911 because she was concerned that he might need medical attention. When officers arrived at the scene, they found the defendant in an SUV, sitting as described by the 911 caller.
Allegedly, when they spoke with the defendant, they noticed he was lethargic, had difficulty completing sentences, and was rambling. Additionally, his eyes were bloodshot and watery. They administered field sobriety tests, which the defendant failed. He was arrested and charged with DWI. He was convicted as charged. He then appealed, arguing in part that his arrest constituted an unlawful violation of his fourth amendment rights because the investigating officers did not have probable cause to arrest him for DWI.
The Community Care Taking Role of Police Officers
The court noted that the officers did not pull over the defendant, block in his car, order the defendant to exit his vehicle or make any other demands. Instead, they merely engaged him in conversation to see if he had any information regarding a driver that was reportedly asleep at an intersection. Thus, the court found that the police-citizen encounter began as an inquiry that could be undertaken without grounds for suspicion.
Further, the court found that the initial line of questioning fell under the community care taking doctrine. In other words, in their role as community care takers, if they are acting in a reasonably objective manner, police officers may check on the safety or welfare of a citizen who appears to need assistance without obtaining a warrant of violating the Constitution. In the subject case, the court found that there was an objectively reasonable basis for the officers to exercise the community care taking function, and after doing so, had a reasonable basis to administer field sobriety tests. As such, it upheld the defendant’s conviction.
Speak to a Knowledgeable New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney
In some instances, people who are stopped in their vehicles can be arrested and charged with a first offense DWI. If you are faced with DWI charges, it is prudent to meet with a lawyer to determine your options for seeking a successful result. The knowledgeable DUI defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are dedicated to defending people charged with DWI offenses, and if you engage our services, we will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact us via our online form or at 877-450-8301 to schedule a meeting.