Judge rules on how police deal with passed-out drivers - WNEM TV 5

Judge issues ruling about how police deal with passed-out drivers

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Police say they've been given a tough choice that seems to go against their common sense. It has to do with drivers who pass out behind the wheel.

If the police discover someone in that position, what should they do? A judge's recent decision has laid out a whole new set of considerations.

Criminal Appellate Judge Jerry Smith ruled that police officers violate the person's civil rights if they open the door and take the person into custody.

Smith wrote that it was a violation of the Fourth Amendment and is a form of trespassing.

"It has put law enforcement in a very troubling and difficult circumstance," said Williamson County District Attorney Kim Helper.

Helper and other DAs have two big concerns.

"I think that is troubling. I think many people in the community would like to feel that if they are having a medical emergency or if something is going on that they can't respond,  that it would be helpful if a law enforcement officer came upon them and was able to get them the assistance they need," Helper said.

But not everyone agrees.

Defense attorney and constitutional law expert Jim Todd says it's an important right for all citizens.

"It's the right decision, and it's about time people start recognizing that the Fourth Amendment is not a technicality, it's a big deal," he said.

Todd said he believes officers can check on people the same old way, just no more arrests that way.

"All day long, the police should go investigate motorists who they believe may be in trouble. But understand that, absent some reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred, if you find evidence of a crime during that community caretaking, it is not going to be admissible. You will have to find some other way to get that evidence in," Todd said.

The district attorney's office sees it differently as well. It is strongly urging the state attorney general to appeal this at the Supreme Court level. They think it exposes the public to unnecessary danger.

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