Surely everyone knows that you should not fall asleep while driving. Driving while tired, drowsy, or sleep deprived is dangerous. According to a ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals, it may now be that driving while someone else is sleeping in the passenger’s seat is enough for an officer to stop your vehicle.
We need and want law enforcement to do more than just stop crime. Law enforcement has a duty to protect and serve. We, as average citizens, want and need those law enforcement officers to do some community caretaking. Example, if you are in distress physically, you would not want a police officer to notice and pass by because no criminal activity was present, or if you were lost, you would expect that you could stop and ask a police officer for help. We teach our children they can ask a police officer for help. When law enforcement acts in this community-caretaking role, often the same officer finds criminal activity in progress.
In July of 2013, a Fort Worth police officer in Tarrant County, Texas was stopped at a red-light in his patrol car with his window rolled down. An SUV pulls up and also stops at the light. The officer notices a woman hunched over in the passenger’s seat of the SUV and the window of that vehicle is also rolled down. The officer yelled at the driver of the vehicle. When the light turned green, the SUV proceeded to drive down the street. The officer proceeds to pull over the SUV. The officer later admits that he did not notice the driver commit any traffic violations.
The passenger is barely conscious. There is a third person in the backseat of the SUV. The passenger, who had thrown up on the passenger’s side door, refused medical assistance. During the stop, to check on this passenger, the officer determined that the driver was intoxicated and arrested him for driving while intoxicated (DWI).
The courts use a two-step inquiry to determine if an officer has properly engaged in his community-caretaking role. Step one is to determine if the officer was primarily motivated by a community-caretaking purpose, and step two is to determine if the officer's belief that the individual needed help was reasonable. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined that both steps were adequately met in this encounter as to justify the stop.
Once the community-caretaking role is established, the officer is justified to investigate any criminal activity he discovers. Thus a woman sleeping in the passenger seat can justify the community-caretaking role of the officer and the eventual DWI for the driver.
You never know when you or a loved-one may be at the wrong end of a criminal investigation or a DWI. If you need help dealing with a DWI, contact me or your attorney. I will help you in Parker, Tarrant, or surrounding counties.