Police “community caretaking” in the district of columbia

The “community caretaking” doctrine allows police to perform warrantless searches in some situations.  If the police are not investigating a crime but simply looking out for the safety of the community, the theory goes, they should not have to get a warrant to enter a vehicle or dwelling.  The risk of course, is that police will covertly investigate crimes under the guise of community caretaking, and violate the Fourth Amendment.

For the second time in two months, the DC Court of Appeals, has upheld a search under this theory.  As the Court explains, some states use a reasonableness test for community caretaking searches, and some use a balancing test.  The DC Court of Appeals decided to use a “hybrid of the reasonableness and balancing tests.”  Here is the test quoted in full:

In order for a law enforcement officer’s community caretaking conduct to be reasonable, the government must show: 1) 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; 2) the government’s conduct was reasonable considering the availability, feasibility, and effectiveness of alternatives to the officer’s action; 3) the officer’s action ended when the citizen or community was no longer in need of assistance; 4) the government’s interests outweigh the citizen’s interest in being free from minor government interference. This court does not require the government to pursue the least restrictive means of correcting the problem.


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