Summarized from A Short Memo on the Community Caretaking Function by Tip Hargrove III; Voice for the
Defense; June 2012; Volume 41, No 5.
Police officers have many functions in our community. To perform a traffic stop, there must be reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. But what about when a police officer sees someone that he believes to be in distress? Is he allowed to stop that person even though there is no suspicion that a crime has been committed? Texas courts have said that yes, in some circumstances, this is permitted.
So when is it okay for a police officer to stop and help a person when they have no reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed? The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has determined that the relevant factors in determining whether or not an intrusion is reasonable are: (1) the nature and level of distress exhibited by the individual, (2) the location of the individual, (3) whether or not the individual was alone and/or had access to assistance independent of that offered by the officer, and (4) to what extent the individual, if not assisted, presented a danger to himself of others.
Cases in the lower courts have shown that a passenger throwing up out of a car window while moving, or even a passenger in a car stopped on the side of the road and throwing up outside of the car, is not enough to justify a “community caretaker” stop. The Court of Criminal Appeals said that the “community caretaking” exception is to be narrowly applied and that the first factor, the nature and level of distress shown by the individual, is the most important in deciding whether the stop was justified. So if the person shows a higher level of distress, such as bleeding from a head wound, then the stop would likely be justified.