The Court of Appeals in McGlenn v. U.S., decided on July 19, 2019, expanded and defined “community caretaking doctrine” in holding that an arrest and seizure of the defendant was justified.

A 911 call reported assault in progress and upon arriving at the scene the Officers came in contact with the defendant outside a housing complex.  Defendant appeared intoxicated and under the influence of illegal substances mainly PCP.

It was determined quickly by the Officers that McGlenn had not assaulted anyone inside the complex and was only acting erratically.  Defendant’s mother residing there had originated the 911 call.

The trial court held that the Officers lawfully cuffed and detained defendant while calling for ambulance and “for his safety and the safety of the community” because defendant:

  1. Was sweating heavily and breathing hard;
  2. Appeared disoriented;
  3. Was non-compliant to the point of pulling out of his shirt;
  4. Was at one point incoherent;
  5. Was slurring his speech;
  6. Did not seem to understand what was going on, particularly at the beginning of the encounter;
  7. Had behaved in a frightening and aggressive way in his mother’s home;
  8. Appeared to be high on PCP;
  9. Stated that he did not remember having seen his mother that evening; and
  10. Kept repeating himself.

While being detained the defendant had blurted out that he had a weapon on him.  He was then arrested for illegal possession and subsequently moved to suppress the arrest and seizure of weapon due to illegally being detained in the first place.

The Court of Appeals held that his detention initially was justified under the “community caretaking doctrine” as such functions totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.

Moreover, police officers have multitude of tasks: criminal investigator, first aid provider, social worker, crisis intervener, family counselor, youth mentor and peacemaker, to name a few.  The modern police officer is a jack-of-all-emergencies.

The Court of Appeals reiterated circumstances in which the community caretaking doctrine is both applicable and lawful under the Fourth Amendment, the government must show:

  • By specific and articulable facts that the government’s conduct was totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute;
  • The government’s conduct was reasonable considering the availability, feasibility, and effectiveness of alternatives to the officer’s action;
  • The officer’s action ended when the citizen or community was no longer in need of assistance;
  • The government’s interests outweigh the citizen’s interest in being free from minor government interference.

Here, the officers’ decision to continue to detain the defendant waiting for an ambulance was reasonable considering the alternatives, and the detention was reasonably necessary initially to investigate the assault allegations.

The government’s interests in keeping the community safe from Mr. McGlenn outweighed his interest in being free from the ten-minute period of detention at issue.

Overall, the scope and period of seizure was reasonable under the circumstances and the detention was both legal and justifiable under the community caretaking doctrine.

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Categories: Criminal Defense.