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Posted by on Dec 1, 2017 in Criminal, Suppression | 0 comments

Com v. Livingstone: You’re Drunk, I presume.

In Commonwealth v. Livingstone, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that a police officer must have articulable explanation for his “community caretaking” to use it as an exception to the warrant requirement.

Late one evening, Trooper Frantz was out on I-79 (named for former Pennsylvania Governer Raymond Shafer) when he saw a car stopped on the side of the road, with no hazard lights on. Concerned that the motorist might be having trouble, he turned on his emergency lights and pulled up next to her. He rolled down his window and spoke to the driver—Ms. Livingstone—who was putting an address into her GPS. He spoke to her and she stared back, assuring him she was OK.

But our Trooper was a gentleman, and he was concerned she wasn’t really OK. He pulled in front of her car, parked, and walked to the driver’s door to continue checking on her. The Trooper began to notice that Ms. Livingstone’s behavior was strange, and so he required a breathalyzer. Before long, she was handcuffed and under arrest for a DUI.

Majority by Todd: Community Caretaking Exception Must be Narrowly Tailored to the Objective

Justice Debra Todd, writing for the fractious majority, holds that the “community caretaking exception” to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment requires the officer’s actions to be supported by clear and articulable explanation of the public service he was attempting to accomplish.

Mere encounters have long been the camel’s head under the tent in Fourth Amendment law, and the Court’s majority expresses concern that the community caretaking exception not grow to the point of invalidating the need for probable cause. If an officer can claim he is just checking in on a motorist, he can almost always initiate a stop. This conclusion was bolstered in this case by the officer’s use of lights. Pointing out that it would be a crime for the motorist to pull away while the officer’s lights are on, Todd argues that it would be absurd for a motorist to believe that she was free to leave at that point.

While stopping short of requiring a “complete divorce” from the facts giving rise to the community caretaking activity the officer initially undertook and the criminal investigation that soon followed, the majority ruled that an officer “must point to specific, objective, and articulable facts which would reasonably suggest to an experienced officer that assistance was needed” before engaging the community caretaker exception, and that “the police action must be independent from the detection, investigation, and acquisition of criminal evidence.” Finally the Court ruled that these determinations are based on the totality of the circumstances, and that the action taken by police must be tailored to rendering assistance or mitigating the peril.”

Com v. Livingstone: You’re Drunk, I presume.

In Commonwealth v. Livingstone, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that a police officer must have articulable explanation for his “community caretaking” to use it as an exception to the warrant requirement.

Late one evening, Trooper Frantz was out on I-79 (named for former Pennsylvania Governer Raymond Shafer) when he saw a car stopped on the side of the road, with no hazard lights on. Concerned that the motorist might be having trouble, he turned on his emergency lights and pulled up next to her. He rolled down his window and spoke to the driver—Ms. Livingstone—who was putting an address into her GPS. He spoke to her and she stared back, assuring him she was OK.

But our Trooper was a gentleman, and he was concerned she wasn’t really OK. He pulled in front of her car, parked, and walked to the driver’s door to continue checking on her. The Trooper began to notice that Ms. Livingstone’s behavior was strange, and so he required a breathalyzer. Before long, she was handcuffed and under arrest for a DUI.

Majority by Todd: Community Caretaking Exception Must be Narrowly Tailored to the Objective

Justice Debra Todd, writing for the fractious majority, holds that the “community caretaking exception” to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment requires the officer’s actions to be supported by clear and articulable explanation of the public service he was attempting to accomplish.

Mere encounters have long been the camel’s head under the tent in Fourth Amendment law, and the Court’s majority expresses concern that the community caretaking exception not grow to the point of invalidating the need for probable cause. If an officer can claim he is just checking in on a motorist, he can almost always initiate a stop. This conclusion was bolstered in this case by the officer’s use of lights. Pointing out that it would be a crime for the motorist to pull away while the officer’s lights are on, Todd argues that it would be absurd for a motorist to believe that she was free to leave at that point.

While stopping short of requiring a “complete divorce” from the facts giving rise to the community caretaking activity the officer initially undertook and the criminal investigation that soon followed, the majority ruled that an officer “must point to specific, objective, and articulable facts which would reasonably suggest to an experienced officer that assistance was needed” before engaging the community caretaker exception, and that “the police action must be independent from the detection, investigation, and acquisition of criminal evidence.” Finally the Court ruled that these determinations are based on the totality of the circumstances, and that the action taken by police must be tailored to rendering assistance or mitigating the peril.”

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