An Exception to the Fourth Amendment

The “community caretaking doctrine” is an exception to the constitutional warrant requirements which may be invoked to validate as reasonable a search of a car. The typical instance is when an abandoned, unlocked vehicle is sitting off the roadway, or sitting on a roadway or parking lot blocking traffic, or where the driver is slumped over the wheel.

Officers commonly do “welfare checks” which originated from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cady vs. Dombrowski [1]. In Cady, an automobile accident had occurred and a disabled vehicle was towed to a garage. Officers inventory any contents of the vehicle to make sure any valuable property was inventoried and guarded.

The “community caretaking function is totally divorced from the detection, investigation or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of any criminal law.” The doctrine is an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, which reflects the reality that modern society expect police to fulfill various responsibilities [2].

Police are expected to engage in activities and interact with citizens in a number of ways beyond the investigation of criminal conduct. Activities include a general safety and welfare role in helping citizens who made be in peril or who may otherwise be in need of some form of assistance. Police wear many hats such as criminal investigator, first aid provider, social worker, crisis intervener, family counselor, youth mentor and peacemaker — just to name a few. But are all involved with the duty to protect people, not just from criminals, but from accidents, natural perils and even self-inflicted injuries. Police are society’s problem solvers when no other solution is apparent or available.


[1] 413 U.S. 433 (1973)

[2] ullom vs. Miller, 705 2d 111 (W. 2010)

By | 2018-12-21T19:50:17+00:00 November 14th, 2018|Legal News|Comments Off on An Exception to the Fourth Amendment

About the Author:

Dee Wampler
Dee Wampler has practiced law for 50 years has received many awards and honors. As Greene County’s youngest elected Prosecuting Attorney at the age of 29, Wampler’s reputation was quickly established as a leading trial attorney. Dee was an original organizer and first president Crimestoppers. Wampler has published over 250 articles for Law Enforcement Journals, and authored six books: Missouri Criminal Law Handbook; The Trial of Christ; The Myth of Separation Between Church and State; Standing on the Front Line; Defending Yourself Against Cops in Missouri, and other Strange Places; and One Nation Under God. His knowledge of criminal law and trial tactics is widely recognized.