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State v. Tommy K. Miller, 2009AP2056-CR, District II, 4/28/10

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Miller: Dudley A. Williams; BiC; Resp.; Reply

Community Caretaker

Miller caught the attention of the police by driving very slowly, early in the morning, and pulling into the parking lot of a closed business. But he soon drove off, and neither committed any traffic violations nor engaged in suspicious behavior; his ensuing stop wasn’t supportable under a community caretaker rationale:

¶16      We conclude that Harper’s conduct was not a bona fide community caretaker activity because it did not meet the standard. See id., ¶¶27, 35; see also Anderson, 142 Wis. 2d at 169. Harper did not testify that he was motivated by a belief that the driver was in need of any assistance, medical or mechanical. See Kramer, 315 Wis. 2d 414, ¶27.  Additionally, Harper did not articulate an objectively reasonable basis for his actions as a community caretaker. See id., ¶36. Indeed, the record is void of any showing that Harper was concerned that Miller may have been in need of assistance. The record tells us little more than Harper “wanted to stop [Miller’s] vehicle right away before it merged onto [Highway] 16.” Harper’s actions were not “totally divorced” from his law enforcement function and, therefore, do not qualify as actions within his community caretaker function.[4] See id.

Key point: Police motivation is a relevant factor, ¶15, and the court essentially agrees with Miller (BiC, p. 16) that, given his failure to express any belief Miller needed help, the officer wasn’t motivated by desire to provide aid, hence the caretaker doctrine didn’t apply.

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