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Help! I Need Somebody (or Do I?): A Discussion of Community Caretaking and “Assistance Seizures” Under Iowa Law

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ABSTRACT: Police officers often engage in activity that extends beyond their role as criminal investigators. Whether helping with a flat tire or providing directions, police officers serve as “community caretakers” by providing aid to individuals and the general public. Some police community caretaking activities, however, are more invasive than others and constitute searches or seizures under the Fourth Amendment. Predominantly, state courts evaluate the reasonableness of these activities under the community caretaking doctrine. The formulation and application of this doctrine is far from uniform. In State v. Kurth, the Iowa Supreme Court suggested its willingness to address the community caretaking doctrine under article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution, which is identical to the Fourth Amendment in content. This Note argues that the court should reevaluate its treatment of a specific type of community caretaking activity, the “assistance seizure,” which occurs when an officer stops a vehicle (therefore “seizing” it) for the purpose of providing aid. This Note proposes two modifications to Iowa’s existing jurisprudence for determining the reasonableness of assistance seizures. First, the court should adopt a requirement that an officer act with subjective good faith in providing aid, and that his actions be objectively reasonable. Second, it should adopt the view that seizures performed to help the subject of the seizure, as opposed to the general public, are presumptively unreasonable.

 

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