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San Francisco DUI Attorney: Community Caretaking Claim Rejected

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The “community caretaking exception," justifies an otherwise unconstitutional warrantless search of an automobile where the search is conducted by law enforcement in an attempt to protect the general public from harm, as opposed to a search conducted during the course of a criminal investigation.

Paul Burglin, a DUI Attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area presents this case as an example:

Alford v. State of Texas , - S.W.3d - -, 2011 WL 3505698 (Tex.App.-Dallas)

Officers on bicycles observed a vehicle pull up and stop at a dead end street near an open Jack in the Box restaurant. The passenger door opened and the passenger “kind of turned sideways" as he said something to the driver. They were observed five to seven minutes and were allegedly talking very loudly, but the police could not discern what they were saying.

As the officers approached to “see what was going on," the passenger changed places with the driver. The defendant attempted to drive away but the officer said he wanted to talk to her for a second and asked if she would “mind putting it in park." Some brief conversation ensued before the officer observed a strong odor of alcohol and ultimately arrested the driver.

The officer testified to being concerned that there was a disturbance going on or that somebody was sick. In reversing the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, the Court first noted that the nature and level of the distress exhibited was almost non-existent. It further concluded that the open restaurant provided defendant and her passenger with a place to get any assistance they might need, and that there was no evidence the defendant was either in danger or presented a danger.

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