Police allowed to place “moderately intoxicated” (0.082 BAC) into detox under community caretaking doctrine
Case: Meehan v. Thompson, Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit 2014
What happened: Plaintiff (with 0.082 BAC) was a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver. She wanted to be allowed to wait for a ride home (about a mile away), but the police wanted to impound the vehicle and take her to a detox facility. The police let her wait about four minutes, but her ride took about eight minutes to get there because plaintiff’s husband had to find a sober person to drive. Accordingly, plaintiff spent the rest of the night and part of the next day in a detox facility. Police claimed that their authority to force the woman into detox came from the community caretaking doctrine.
Decision: Law does not clearly state whether a “moderately intoxicated person” alone at night is enough of a risk to themselves and/or others such that the community caretaking exception to 4A applies. Therefore, the police got qi — case dismissed.
Criticism: Plaintiff was not behaving badly, and 0.082 BAC does not seem that much (so long as a person is not driving and/or behaving badly). I think (and this is speculation) that the policeman wanted to punish the woman for something (maybe a rude tone, maybe letting her friend drive drunk). While the policeman’s subjective intentions usually don’t matter in 4A cases, I think that they should matter under the community caretaking. Accordingly, I think plaintiff here should have gotten a trial on the issue of whether the arresting policeman was truly concerned with plaintiff’s well-being, rather than trying to punish plaintiff.
Further criticism update: When invoking the community caretaking exception there is generally no crime, which means that there are generally not suppression remedy cases available to develop community caretaking 4A law. As such, I don’t think it makes any sense to say “the law is not clearly established,” as the court did in this case. We, as a society, need courts to make 4A holdings in community caretaking cases so that the contours of community caretaking law can become clearer over time.
Still further criticism update: For whatever reason, the opinion never addresses the possibility that the police simply could have taken the woman home — her home was much closer than the detox facility. I think this choice by the police is what most clearly shows their intent to punish.