Community Caretaker Function

DWI Lawyers That Know How to Challenge a Stop

As a general rule, police may only stop a motor vehicle if they possess articulable suspicion that a traffic or criminal violation has been committed (e.g. violation of Title 39, including driving while intoxicated). An exception to this rule applies, however, when the community caretaker function applies. This exception applies where the contact between the police and the suspect has nothing to do with detection, investigation or acquisition of evidence relating to a crime; instead, the contact stems from something other than active crime fighting efforts. The exception comes up quite a bit these days, especially in the context of an “anonymous tip” DWI stop. If you think you were stopped on suspicion of DWI and the encounter was not based on personal observation by the police, then you may be dealing with a community caretaker scenario. The following is a more detailed explanation of this concept. If you require representation because you have been charged with driving while intoxicated, do not hesitate to give our New Jersey DWI attorneys a call at 877-450-8301.

Examples of How Community Caretaker Has Been Applied in NJ

The following three (3) cases illustrate how the courts have interpreted the community caretaker exception in New Jersey.

  • State v. Goetaski, 209 N.J.Super 362 (App.Div.1986): The Appellate Court affirmed a DWI conviction stemming from a stop made by a police officer to inquire as to “whether something was wrong.” The defendant in Goetaski was driving slowly on the shoulder of a rural highway with his turn signal on for about a tenth of a mile. Although the officer observed no traffic violation, the court upheld the stop under the rationale that the officer had a duty, as someone entrusted to care for the public, to inquire as to a problem. It also found that a “reasonabl police officer” would be justified in inquiring.
  • State v. Martinez, 260 N.J.Super. 75 (App.Div.1992): Police were warranted in stopping this defendant under the community caretaker exception based on driving his car at ten miles per hour in a twenty five mile an hour zone at approximately 2 a.m. in the morning. The court concluded that the conduct indicated that something was wrong with the automobile, the driver or that the neighborhood was being cased for some crime.
  • State v. Washington, 296 N.J.Super. 569 (App.Div.1997): A DWI stop was affirmed under the community caretaker doctrine where the defendant was driving under the speed limit and was weaving within his lane (i.e. no basis for failure to maintain lane offense). The court reasoned that there was an objectively reasonable basis to stop the vehicle even though no violation had occurred because the vehicle presented a potential safety hazard to others.

If you would like to discuss the community caretaker exception or a NJ DWI offense for other reasons, an attorney is always available 24/7 for free consultations. Give us a call.