The officer may have simply been checking to make sure you were OK. You were slumped over your steering wheel, and the officer thought you might have a medical emergency. So she knocked on your window. You were startled and opened your window. Then, the officer clearly smelled alcohol, which led to your arrest.

Apart from patrolling for crime, an officer looks after public safety as a community caretaker. In that capacity, an officer may stop and question you to see if you need help. Under those circumstances, an officer does not need a reasonable, articulable suspicion of wrongdoing before stopping you.

But then things can get tricky. A community caretaking stop can turn into probable cause for arrest. After smelling the alcohol or spotting other evidence of wrongdoing, the officer now has the reasonable, articulable suspicion required to question you further which can lead to an arrest.

In a recent appellate case, an officer had been following a defendant’s car. The defendant did not commit any traffic violations. However, once the defendant parked, he did not leave his car. After five minutes, the officer became concerned and checked on the defendant, finding him passed out. The officer woke the defendant and then smelled the odor of alcohol which led to the defendant’s arrest. (See People v Winchester).

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

About mdkeenan

A criminal and school law attorney with over 17 years of experience, I have successfully represented clients all over the Chicago area. My practice includes DUI, felony, criminal, misdemeanor, homicide, internet crime, retail theft, traffic offenses, cyberstalking, drug crimes, weapons violations, domestic battery and juvenile crime. I also represent families involving school cases. My clients come from all over the Chicago area including Skokie, Wilmette, Niles, Northbrook, Glenview, Evanston, Winnetka, Highland park, Northfield, Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Mount Prospect. I am a member of the ACLU and the Illinois State Bar Association. I serve as a volunteer for First Defense Legal Aid. Se habla espanol.
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