New Case Defines “Community Care Taking”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent  case Commonwealth vs. Livingstone could have a significant impact on how police deal with the general public. Often, the police happen upon situations and stop people just to find out if they need assistance.  Sometimes this leads to the discovery of DUI’s or other criminal activity.  The officers justify the encounter as part of their “community care taking” role.  However, until the decision in Livingstone, “community care taking” has been an undefined concept. Now it has definition.

Common Situation – Constitutional Implications

In Livingstone, a police officer observed a motorist stopped along the berm of the highway. The officer engaged his emergency lights and approached the driver – developing grounds to arrest the driver for DUI.  Even though the officer did not actually stop the motorist, the Commonwealth Supreme Court concluded, “We are constrained to hold that [Livingstone] was seized and subjected to an investigatory investigative detention.”

A Three Part Test

The police must be motivated by a desire to render aid or assistance rather than to investigate or discover any crime if they are engaged in “community care taking.”  While care taking is a positive thing, the police must still obey the Constitution.  The Court established a three part test to determine if the police are properly engaged in “community care taking.”  First, the officer must point to specific, objective facts that reasonably suggest that assistance was needed,  Second, their action must be independent from detecting, or investigating crime and collecting evidence.  Finally, the action taken must be tailored to rendering assistance or mitigating a particular peril.

DUI Evidence Suppressed

In Livingstone, the Supreme Court concluded that the officer involved had no specific facts to support a belief that Livingstone needed assistance.  It decided that the officer’s actions were outside of the scope of “community care taking.”  As a result, it ordered the evidence of DUI acquired as a result of the encounter suppressed.