Texas Community Caretaker Exception to Warrant Requirement

The community caretaking exception is based on and arises out of the multiple roles a peace officer performs. See Wright v. State, 7 S.W.3d at 151 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999) In addition to enforcing the law, conducting investigations, and gathering evidence to be used in criminal proceedings, peace officers also investigate accidents (often where there is no claim of criminal liability), direct traffic, and "perform other duties best described as 'community caretaking functions.'" Id. (citing Cady, 413 U.S. at 441). In the role of a community caretaker, the police officer may stop and assist an individual who needs help. See id. Whether an individual "needs help" is evaluated by whether a reasonable person would believe the individual needs assistance, looking at the totality of the circumstances. See id. In making this evaluation, the following factors are relevant: (1) the nature and level of the distress exhibited by the individual; (2) the location of the individual; (3) whether or not the individual was alone and/or had access to assistance independent of that offered by the officer; and (4) to what extent the individual, if not assisted, presented a danger to himself or others. Wright, 7 S.W.3d at 152. To determine if an individual "needed help," thereby triggering the community caretaking function, the court conducts a fact intensive inquiry based on the circumstances of the case. In general, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects an individual from searches and seizures absent a warrant based on probable cause. See Wright v. State, 7 S.W.3d 148, 150 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999) (en banc). There are several exceptions to the warrant requirement, including a temporary detention based on reasonable suspicion. See Wright, 7 S.W.3d at 150. Another exception comes into play when the detention arises in connection with the officer's exercise of a community caretaking function. See Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 441, 37 L. Ed. 2d 706, 93 S. Ct. 2523 (1973); Wright, 7 S.W.3d at 151-52.