WHEN Can You Break in to a Hot Car? (Definition of "Imminent Danger")
Last week I wrote about Oregon's new law allowing people to break into hot cars to rescue dogs (or children) who are in "imminent danger."
I questioned what "imminent danger" meant. (Your idea could be vastly different from mine. See post below.)
I called Senator Manning's office. He's one of the bill's sponsors. His office checked with the judiciary Council, which said there was no clear definition. They promised to pinpoint something on it, and get back to the Senator's office immediately, which they did the next day.
Here is Josh Nasbe's response, forwarded to me by the Senator's office:
Hi everyone. I’m following up on our conversation yesterday to provide you with more context on HB 2732, specifically Section 1 (2)(b) which requires that the person entering the motor vehicle have a “good faith and reasonable belief, based on the circumstances, that entry into the motor vehicle is necessary because the child or animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm.”
The Legislative Assembly and our courts use language similar to this in many different contexts. This kind of language is intended to be broad enough to cover the wide array of factual circumstances that arise in the real world. So, unfortunately, there isn’t a bright line, specific definition of "imminent danger of suffering harm."
With that said, I think looking at how other statutes with similar language have been understood is helpful. So, for example, one thing that a victim of domestic violence must establish in order to obtain a restraining order is that they are “in imminent danger of further abuse.” In that context, our courts have looked at the dictionary definition of “imminent” (defined as ‘ready to take place: near at hand: impending’) and considered all of the facts before it on a case-by-case basis. I think there will be a similar result here; a lot of this will depend on the facts. Is it 100 degrees outside or 60? How old is the child? Is the child or pet obviously ill or in distress? The ultimate question is whether the person entering the motor vehicle, has a belief – a belief that is objectively reasonable under all of the facts – that it’s necessary to enter the motor vehicle because the danger of the child or animal suffering harm is ‘near at hand.’
I hope this helps. If it doesn’t, or if you have additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thanks, Josh