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Search and seizure - Community caretaking - Motorist.

Byline: Mass. Lawyers Weekly Staff

Where a judge allowed a defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained after a state trooper discovered the defendant in his car in a roadside parking lot and stopped him from leaving, the suppression order must be reversed under the community caretaking doctrine.

" Although the Commonwealth foreswore relying on the community caretaking doctrine before the motion judge, it now asserts that doctrine as justification for the stop. For his part, the defendant contends that the Commonwealth waived this argument and, further, that, in any event, the trooper stopped the car after any proper caretaking justification had concluded. We conclude that despite the Commonwealth's position below, where the issue was properly aired before the motion judge and the judge ruled on the issue in her decision, the application of the community caretaking doctrine is ripe for review. Concluding also that the circumstances justified the officer's exercise of the doctrine, we reverse.

"Here, the objective facts available to the trooper indicated that the defendant may have been a danger to himself or others. The trooper first saw the defendant while the trooper drove along a deserted stretch of Route 5 in Easthampton at approximately 9:30 P.M. on July 16, 2017. At that time, the trooper saw the defendant flailing in his car. When the trooper returned less than a minute later, he found the defendant sweating profusely with his eyes bulging, his mouth agape, and blood dripping from his earlobe as he struggled unsuccessfully to put his car into gear. The trooper could have reasonably believed that the defendant was unwell and unfit to safely operate a motor vehicle. See Commonwealth v. Quezada, 67 Mass. App. Ct. 693, 695 (2006), S.C., 450 Mass. 1030 (2008), which is not inapposite, but, rather, supports application of the doctrine to the circumstances the trooper confronted here. In Quezada, the community caretaking doctrine did not justify the stop of a fleeing individual who, while 'out of it,' 'was not operating a motor vehicle, which could, in his condition, have posed a potential danger to the public,' ... Accordingly, here, the trooper's in the moment decision, to stop a person in the defendant's condition from driving a car, was justified."

Commonwealth v. Woofenden (Lawyers Weekly No. 81-016-19) (4 pages) (Docket No. 18-P-623) (Jan. 22, 2019).

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Title Annotation:Commonwealth v. Woofenden, Massachusetts Appeals Court
Publication:Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly
Date:Jan 24, 2019
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