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Name: People v. Madrid
Case #: A118033
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 11/26/2008

A police officer may utilize the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment to justify a vehicle stop to ensure the safety of an occupant if he is acting reasonably to protect the safety and security of persons and property. A patrol officer observed Mr. Kendrick walking in a shopping center parking lot. In his testimony at the suppression hearing, the officer stated that he believed Kendrick was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, had a medical problem, or had been assaulted because he was walking with an unsteady gait, was sweating, and stumbled and grabbed onto a shopping cart. Kendrick got into the passenger side of a parked vehicle occupied by appellant who was sitting in the driver’s seat. At that point the officer parked his vehicle in front of appellant’s vehicle so as to prevent his departure. Checking on Kendrick, the officer recognized signs of “opium withdrawal.” Appellant was searched and found to be in possession of contraband. The trial court denied appellant’s suppression motion, finding that the officer was justified in stopping appellant from leaving the lot as it was reasonable for the officer to check on Kendrick in the exercise of his community caretaking capacity. The appellate court rejected appellant’s argument that the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment should not be expanded to permit a vehicle stop, noting that other states recognize the exception in this context, applying a reasonableness standard. To determine whether an officer has acted reasonably in exercising a community caretaking function, the following is considered: (1) the nature and level of distress exhibited by the individual; (2) the location of individual; (3) whether the individual is alone and/or had access to assistance other than that of the officer; and (4) if not assisted by the officer, to what extent does the individual present a danger to himself or others. Here, Kendrick exhibited a low level of distress, was not alone, had access to appellant for assistance, and exhibited no indication that he presented a danger to himself or others. On these facts, the appellate court concluded that the officer had not acted reasonably in detaining appellant and Kendrick and, therefore, the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment did not apply.