San Diego DUI Criminal Defense Attorneys sometimes have a client who was initially contacted by a police officer who maintains he was acting in order to help a distressed citizen – for exmaple, cop knocks on one’s car door window.

The Community Caretaker Doctrine is an exception to the general requirement that a warrantless detention in a San Diego DUI case must be based upon articulable and reasonable suspicion that a crime has happened or is about to happen.

The California Supreme Court requires a high threshold to be met before an officer can make a detention based on the community caretaking exception. [People v. Ray, 981 P.2d 928 (Cal. 1999).] The court mandated that a substantial risk to life or the possibility of major property damage exist before the police can act under this exception. We agree with defendant that the People did not meet their burden of establishing circumstances warranting the officers’ actions under the emergency aid component of community caretaking. This justification requires specific, articulable facts indicating the need for “swift action to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property…” [Id. at 934.]

Whether or not any particular encounter between a person and an officer is a detention vs. a consensual contact, a California court said:
Law enforcement officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment by merely approaching an individual on the street or in another public place, and asking him if he is willing to answer some questions. (Florida v. Royer (1983) 460 U.S. 491, 497 [75 L.Ed.2d 229, 236, 103 S.Ct. 1319].) A person has been seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment only if, in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave. (United States v. Mendenhall (1980) 446 U.S. 544, 554 [64 L.Ed.2d 497, 509, 100 S.Ct. 1870]; see also INS v. Delgado (1984) 466 U.S. 210, 215 [80 L.Ed.2d 247, 254-255, 104 S.Ct. 1758].) As the Supreme Court has noted, “The test is necessarily imprecise, because it is designed to assess the coercive effect of police conduct, taken as a whole, rather than to focus on particular details of that conduct in isolation. Moreover, what constitutes a restraint on liberty prompting a person to conclude that he is not free to ‘leave’ will vary, not only with the particular police conduct at issue, but also with the setting in which the conduct occurs.” (Michigan v. Chesternut (1988) 486 U.S. 567, 573 [100 L.Ed.2d 565, 572, 108 S.Ct. 1975].) [People v. Jones (1991) 228 CA3d 519, 279 CR 56]

In general, a detention is found whenever a person is ordered, rather than asked, by an officer to stay put, though in individual cases other factors may weigh more heavily. In the Jones opinion, the holding was that a detention had occurred where the cop parked his cruiser blocking a traffic lane, and jumped out and yelled, “Stop. Would you please stop.” Though the cop’s statement to the defendant was partially phrased as merely a request to stop, the officer’s show of authority in how he parked his car and jumped out was seen by the court as more important, taken as a whole.

Sometimes an officer’s direct order to stop is seen as a mere request to stop. In People v. King (1977) 72 CA3d 346, 139 CR 926, the court found that a detention had not occurred where the officer approached the walking defendant, whom he already knew, and called out: “Danny, stop, I want to talk to you.”

In People v. Harris (1986) 184 CA3d 1319, 229 CR 400, the contact with the police officer was consensual. Though the officer said, “Mister, can you please wake up?” and asked appellant to get out of his car, “to make sure that he was O.K. and just check on his well being,” appellant was actually free to leave. He had the right to simply ignore the nice “request.” Besides, reasoned the court, defendant’s inability to leave was due to his getting out of the car and falling down drunk.

In People v. Perez (1989) 211 CA3d 1492, 260 CR 172, the court found no detention where a police vehicle only stopped, facing the front of the defendant’s vehicle and turned on the high beams and both spotlights, aimed at the defendant’s car. The defendant’s exit was not blocked. He could have driven off, the court said. “[T]he conduct of the police officer here did not manifest police authority to the degree leading a reasonable person to conclude he was not free to leave.” Frustrating as it is, courts do have the power to reorient reality as they want to.

In In re Frank V. (1991) 233 CA3d 1232, 285 CR 16, the cop made a U-turn upon seeing the defendant pull away from the curb on a motorcycle. The motorcycle immediately pulled over to the curb and stopped. The officer stopped behind and got out to confront the motorcyclist. Not a detention said the court, merely a consensual encounter.

In People v. Bouser (1994) 26 CA4th 1280, 32 CR2d 163, the officer said: “Hey, how you doing? You mind if we talk?” to a drug dealer in an alley. The defendant then waited around voluntarily without instructions for maybe five minutes during a warrant check, without being told to do anything. According to the court, this was not a detention.

San Diego DUI criminal defense lawyers always have a fight on their hands.

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