Community Caretaking Doctrine – Another Exception to the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects the people against “unreasonable searches and seizures” without a valid warrant, however there is an court-ruled exception to this protection known as the Community Caretaking Doctrine that all citizens should be aware of.

Vehicle searches

Photo by: West Midlands Police

The Community Caretaking Doctrine was first brought to light in the case of Cady V. Dombrowski in 1973. Chester J. Dombrowski was a Chicago, Illinois police officer who was driving intoxicated and crashed his car in a town just north over the border in Wisconsin. While Dombrowski lay unconscious in the hospital, police towed the car and later went back to search it after learning Dombrowski was a Chicago police officer who should have been in possession of a service weapon. Fearful the weapon could fall into the wrong hands, officers returned to the car and did a thorough search. Instead of finding Dombrowski’s gun in the car, officers found bloody items in the trunk that led them to discover Dombrowski had been involved in a murder. Dombrowski tried to fight the murder charges, stating his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated when police searched his vehicle without probable cause of a crime and a warrant.

Home searches

In People v. Ray (1999), officers were dispatched to a home after a concerned neighbor reported the door ajar and the house in disarray. When police arrived, the neighbor confirmed the home in question and the officers observed the front door wide open and the interior appeared to have been burglarized. Items were everywhere, things tipped over and one of the officers noted it “appeared to be ransacked.” Concerned for the well-being of the resident living there and suspicious a burglar suspect may still be inside, the two officers entered the home without a warrant. Once inside, officers merely observed the scene, not touching or opening anything.

Photo by: West Midlands Police

They did not find a burglar or a resident in need of help, but they did see a large amount of cocaine. After seeing the drugs, officers returned later with a search warrant and arrested Andre Lamont Ray, the resident of the home, for possession of cocaine with intent to sell among other drug charges. Ray also tried to fight the charges against him, just like Dombrowski, he felt his Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches had been violated.

Fourth Amendment rights

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects the people against unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause and a lawful warrant. If a search is performed without either permission from the person or a warrant signed by a judge, any evidence obtained through the search is not permissible in court. There are a handful of exceptions to the Fourth Amendment however, such as: when consent is given, if illegal evidence is in plain view, or if local officers “perceived a need to act in the proper discharge of his/her community caretaking functions” as stated in People v. Ray (1999).

Community Caretaking Doctrine

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

The Community Caretaking Doctrine is the result of the people expecting more from police officers than upholding the law. Officers are also expected to serve and protect – always willing to come to the aid of any person in need of help. The U.S. Supreme Court stated in Cady v. Dombrowski that officers are subject to activities that are not related to their criminal investigations and are “community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.” In People v. Ray, the superior court noted that in “[these] types of situations ( . . . ) I don’t believe police officers acted improperly in the sense that they were performing a community service of community value. That’s what they are there to do.”

Limitations to the exception

The community caretaking doctrine seems like an open-ended invitation for officers to conduct an unlawful search in the name of helping out a citizen. There are limitations to this warrantless search however that includes officers distinguishing real threats from possible ones and acting on questionable information. Anyone who feels their Fourth Amendment rights were violated due to Community Caretaking loophole and are now facing charges should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Pleading Guilty with a Mental Illness

When a person is suffering from a mental illness, it can drastically reduce their ability to determine right from wrong, leading some to commit offenses they may have not been predisposed to commit had they been of sound mind. When this occurs, they may think it is best to plead guilty with a mental illness. Since pleading guilty with a mental illness is still pleading guilty, this is something that is best discussed with a qualified attorney prior to the initial appearance or preliminary hearing.

Prevalence of mental illness nationwide

Photo by: A Health Blog

Mental illnesses are experiences by millions throughout the nation. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 5 adults, or more than 40 million Americans suffer from a mental illness each year. Nearly 10 million of those suffer from severe, and often debilitating cases of mental illness. Mental illness can affect an individuals ability to hold down a job, maintain healthy relationships, and overall dramatically reduce the quality of life for the sufferer. Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia can decrease a person’s ability to understand the gravity of situations and many believe they could lead a person to exhibit criminal behavior outside their control.

Pleading guilty with a mental illness at the time of the offense

Some individuals may realize that they have committed a serious offense, yet felt they were not in a healthy state of mind when the event occurred. If the evidence is stacked against them, they may choose to claim guilty with a mental illness at the time of the offense. According to Utah Code 76-2-305, “it is a defense to a prosecution under any statute or ordinance that the defendant, as a result of mental illness, lacked the mental state required as an element of the offense charged. “This section defines mental illness as “a mental disease or defect that substantially impairs a person’s mental, emotional, or behavioral functioning. A mental defect may be a congenital condition, the result of injury, or a residual effect of a physical or mental disease and includes, but is not limited to, intellectual disability.”

Sentencing with or without treatment

Photo by: Alachua County

When someone is given a verdict of guilty with a mental illness, according to Utah Code 77—16a-104, a hearing will then be conducted to “determine the defendant’s present mental state”. If the person is found to still be suffering from a mental illness, the court would “impose any sentence that could be imposed under law upon a defendant who does not have a mental illness and who is convicted of the same offense and commit the defendant to the department.” The defendant would then be admitted to the Utah State Hospital. Once treatment is completed, the defendant would then be transferred to the UDC (Utah Department of Corrections) to complete their sentencing. Being found guilty with a mental illness it is not a get out of jail free card. It is more of a temporary adjustment as to where the defendant will be serving their sentence.

Still a guilty plea

Utah Code 77-16a-103 gives a note of caution to those pleading guilty with a mental illness, “If the defendant is later found not to have a current mental illness, that plea remains a valid plea of guilty with a mental illness at the time of the offense, and the defendant shall be sentenced as any other offender.” Pleading guilty is still considered admitting fault. This is not something that should be done without proper legal counsel. There are other options available such as pleading guilty to a lesser offense or pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. For anyone facing criminal charges, it is best to speak to a criminal defense attorney to discuss the options available to those suffering from a mental illness.

Nevada Hotel Burglary Suspect Arrested in Utah

A Utah woman who was the primary suspect for stealing items from a Wendover, Nevada Hotel and Casino has been arrested on burglary charges.

Scalped hotel reservation

Photo by: Garrett

48 year old Robin Olsen from American Fork, Utah was arrested for burglary after she convinced a couple to purchase her hotel room in Wendover, then proceeded to steal their luggage, person belongings, and a wad of cash from inside it. The couple was able to track their stolen credit card back to Utah, where Olsen was matched to security footage from the hotel and subsequently arrested.

Burglary

Utah Code 76-6-202 defines burglary as when a person “enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit:

(a) a felony;
(b) theft;
(c) an assault on any person;
(d) lewdness, ( . . . )
(e) sexual battery, ( . . . )
(f) lewdness involving a child ( . . . ) or
(g) voyeurism ( . . . ).”

Code 76-6-202 states: “Burglary is a third degree felony unless it was committed in a dwelling, in which event it is a second degree felony.”

Temporary dwelling

Photo by: Prayitno

Utah County Jail has listed Olsen’s charges as simply “burglary” however, it is likely those charges could be increased to a second degree felony since the crime took place in a hotel room. According to Utah Code 76-6-201, a dwelling is “a building which is usually occupied by a person lodging in the building at night, whether or not a person is actually present.” Since a hotel’s sole purpose is nighttime lodging, that definition of dwelling could apply for any hotel, whether or not the room was vacant or not.

Similar charges across state lines

Olsen was arrested in Utah, however the warrant for her arrest was issued out of Nevada. A second degree felony in Utah is punishable by one to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The same charge in Nevada would be considered a Category B felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Since the crime was committed in Nevada, Olsen will likely return there for court and sentencing.