A Jefferson County judge denied a motion to suppress evidence against Devlin Howard, 39, of Helena, who was charged with assaulting a Boulder police officer and possessing drug paraphernalia after a welfare check in 2019.
The motion, filed by Howard’s attorney Samuel Martin in February 2020, called into question the concept of the Community Care Doctrine, and whether officers in the case overstepped its boundaries.
Montana Fifth Judicial Court Judge Luke Berger ruled Dec. 23 that the Community Caretaker doctrine did apply to the interaction between the two Boulder police officers and Howard, which occurred around 3 a.m. on Nov. 28, 2019.
The Community Care Doctrine, which stems from the Fourth Amendment, provides that officers can intervene if a person is in need of help. Martin had argued that when a welfare check is expanded into a criminal investigation, it becomes a seizure issue. Martin had argued in June that the ensuing criminal investigation, in what began as a check on an individual asleep in a car in single digit temperatures in blizzard-like conditions, was potentially a violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments.
The Boulder Police had initially tried to rouse Howard, and it wasn’t until 35-45 seconds of pounding on the window had gone by that Howard had awakened, groggy and confused, according to court documents.
After police asked Howard to exit his car, officers noticed drug paraphernalia and learned his license was suspended. While being patted down, Howard allegedly assaulted one of the officers while trying to get away.
Due to the weather and the time of day, Berger, in his ruling, said the officers were correct in pursuing further interaction to make sure Howard was not in danger and did not need assistance.
Berger also stated that suppressing the evidence could send officers a message not to extend stops that could later be deemed to be a violation and potentially deter law enforcement from acting.
“While Montana extends greater privacy rights than other states, that is not an invitation for violent interactions against law enforcement if someone believes their rights have been infringed upon,” wrote Berger.
The assault charge is a felony and can result in a prison sentence of no less than two years and up to 10 and a fine not to exceed $50,000. Possessing drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor and can result in a jail sentence of up to 6 months, a fine not to exceed $500 or both.
Howard is scheduled for a jury trial on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 9 a.m. in the Jefferson County District Court.