OWI Traffic Stop in Hamilton County Violated 4th Amendment Rights
The Indiana Court of Appeals has determined that evidence gathered from a traffic stop in Hamilton County should be suppressed. The Court held that the traffic stop, which resulted in an operating while intoxicated charge, was illegal because the officer had neither observed any traffic violations nor appropriately functioned as a “community caretaker”. “Not Very Normal Activity” A gas station attendant called police to report a woman who was stuck under her car in the parking lot. When the officer with the Fishers Police Department arrived, he noticed a vehicle matching the caller’s description leaving the gas station. Although the officer did not witness the driver make any traffic violations, he initiated a stop to check on her welfare. The officer stated he was concerned the driver could have physical injuries, in addition to the fact that the call was “not very normal activity”. As the officer inquired whether the driver was OK, he observed signs of possible impairment, including the odor of alcohol, red and watery eyes, and slurred speech. The driver failed field sobriety tests as well as a portable breathalyzer test, which registered at .12. After the driver was transported to the Hamilton County Jail, her blood alcohol level tested at .10. She was charged with two counts of operating while intoxicated. After filing a motion to suppress evidence obtained during the traffic stop, the trial court denied the motion. The trial court ruled that the stop was justified because the officer was lawfully functioning as a “community caretaker”.
Police as a Community Caretaker A police officer’s community caretaking function encompasses responsibilities separate from criminal enforcement. In particular, local police “aid those in distress, abate hazards, prevent potential hazards from materializing, and perform an infinite variety of other tasks calculated to enhance and maintain the safety of communities.” Community caretaking is one of the few exceptions police have to invade an individual’s 4th Amendment right to privacy and protection from undue seizure. However, the Court of Appeals determined that the officer in this case was not acting as a community caretaker when he stopped the defendant.
Being at a gas station, the defendant had ample ability to access emergency services instead of driving away.
The officer did not receive any reports indicating the defendant was a public health risk or that further intervention was necessary after she was out from under the car. For example, the gas station attendant did not state that the defendant was injured or demonstrating signs of impairment.
As he followed the defendant and watched her drive, the officer did not personally observe any swerving or other signs of impairments.
Hamilton County Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you were arrested for operating while intoxicated in Hamilton County, a criminal defense attorney can review the police report and other evidence to determine if the traffic stop was lawful. It’s important to talk to an attorney early in your case though, because notice of some defenses must be filed before specific deadlines. Call us for help with your Hamilton County criminal case at 855-9-GIBSON.