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Welfare Check Wasn't Valid Reason For Stop in This Case

Under the Fourth Amendment, we, the people, are not to be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures. However, the Courts have provided several exceptions, allowing police officers to search your car, even without reasonable suspicion. One such exception is when law enforcement does a welfare check while investigating a domestic disturbance. As a DUI lawyer, I often see the police officer in his report explaining that he was doing a welfare check. I gather it's because he is trying to head off suppression issues the criminal defense attorney may raise in court.

The Court, in State v. McCaddon 39 Kan.App.2d 839,186 P.3d 309 (2008) addressed this welfare check suppression issue. In that case, law enforcement received a domestic disturbance report and that reportedly, the man was going to the hospital. This was according to the reporter, who possibly didn't see or hear the disturbance. In response to this report, law enforcement stopped a vehicle matching the description of the reporter. Subsequently, according to the officer, the driver smelled like alcohol and admitted to significant alcohol consumption. The defendant registered a BAC of .144. He was arrested and charged with DUI even though he wasn't originally even pulled over for drinking and driving or any other traffic infraction.

Regarding the stop, the officer was unable to articulate reasonable suspicion of a crime. Nor did he have any specific facts regarding the safety of the driver or the public. In fact, the sole reason for the stop was to do a welfare check. The court noted that public safety stops are completely separate from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the crime. Public safety stops are not to be used for investigative purposes, but only for community caretaking. In this case, the motion to suppress was upheld and the evidence was properly excluded because the court noted that there was no apparent danger to the public, the report didn't raise any concern for other motorists, and there wasn't evidence of any danger to the driver. The court did make room for other cases where the stop may be deemed valid when the situation shows more need for a welfare check.