In a historic decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that police don’t have the ability under “community caretaking” violations to enter a home and illegally seize property.
On Monday, the Supreme Court released its opinion in Caniglia v. Strom, which unanimously held that a lower court’s extension of Cady v. Dombrowski’s “community caretaking” exception into the home defied the logic and holding of Cady, as well as violated the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. With the court’s unanimity in Caniglia, the home remains the most sacred space under the Fourth Amendment; its sanctity literally houses its privilege. Sans warrant, exigency or consent, governmental search and seizure within it is unconstitutional.
During an August 2015 argument with his wife, Edward Caniglia offered her one of his unloaded guns and requested that she put him out of his misery. Instead, she threatened to call 911. After the couple’s argument continued, she left the marital home to overnight at a hotel. When she returned the next day, she enlisted Cranston, Rhode Island’s police department to perform a wellness check on her husband. They did. They also arranged transportation for Edward to obtain a psychiatric evaluation at a local hospital. He agreed to go, but only after officers purportedly agreed not to confiscate his weapons. However, as soon as he left, officers — apparently by deceiving his wife — entered the Caniglia home and seized Caniglia’s handguns and ammunition. Caniglia sued, alleging that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit sided with the officers by relying on Cady, a 1973 decision that upheld the warrantless “caretaking” search of a car that had been in an accident.
The court’s opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, was devoid of the fearsome, compelling specter raised in the briefing and during argument regarding the potential for troubling eventualities — for instance, that Caniglia may have harmed himself or his wife (or, perhaps, other innocent/intervening victims). A pithy four pages “long,” the opinion was unanimous and unambiguous: If police do not have the homeowner’s consent, an “exigent” circumstance, or a judicial warrant authorizing a search, then no version of Cady’s car exception applies to police entry into the home under the Fourth Amendment. “What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes,” Thomas wrote.
As always with realty – and, per Caniglia, the court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence — location matters. Specifically, the location of Cady’s warrantless search and seizure – a post-accident, routine search of an intoxicated, off-duty officer’s damaged and impounded car — simply cannot compare to a search of and seizure within a home. Governmental searches of vehicles regularly occur via exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement; a myriad of decisions have constitutionalized warrantless searches of vehicles, their compartments, their containers and even their occupants. Not one of these warrantless exceptions is available for the home.
Accordingly, caretaking under Cady is not carte blanche for police to search or seize within the home, nor do their “caretaking” duties create a “standalone doctrine that justifies warrantless searches and seizures in the home,” Thomas wrote. Cady, itself, he noted, drew an “unmistakable distinction between vehicles and homes,” constitutionally embedding the exception outside the home.
That police may engage in a myriad of “civic” community caretaking functions did not move the court off its jurisprudential bright line. Certainly, such functions give texture to the modern, sometimes complex, role of policing. They do not, however, supplant the constitutional sanctity of the home. Accordingly, the Caniglia court declined the opportunity to expand Cady’s “community caretaking” exception and permit warrantless entry into the home.
The court vacated the 1st Circuit’s judgment and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Brett Kavanaugh each wrote brief concurring opinions to clarify what they described as the limits of the court’s ruling.
The Supreme Court dealt a massive blow to the radical left and mainstream media on Monday by ruling that warrantless gun confiscation from Americans’ homes is unconstitutional. The 9-0 vote by the court was a thunderous blow to those in politics looking to tighten their grasp over the American populace.
A Rhode Island man whose firearms were taken by law enforcement when his wife expressed concerns he might hurt himself triggered the courts ruling, and they had seen enough.
According to Caniglia v Strom, a lower court had previously determined that police confiscating the guns without a warrant fell under the Fourth Amendment’s “community caretaking” exception, but a 9-0 vote from the nation’s top court struck down that ruling.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the unanimous opinion for the Supreme Court, stating that law enforcement can execute “many civic tasks in modern society,” but there is “not an open-ended license to perform them anywhere.”
“The very core of the Fourth Amendment,” Thomas wrote, is the “right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable search and seizure.”
Some exceptions to the 4th Amendment do exist, including “exigent circumstances,” Forbes reported. For instance, if an officer sees an individual about to shoot another person through the window of a home, that officer has the right to enter the home to prevent the attack.
Another exception – the one on which this case was based – is called “community caretaking.” The Supreme Court previously determined that police can bypass the warrant requirement to perform “community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute,” noting a situation when police took a gun from the trunk of an impounded vehicle without a warrant.
“In reaching this conclusion, the Court noted that the officers who patrol the ‘public highways’ are often called to discharge noncriminal ‘community caretaking functions,’ such as responding to disabled vehicles or investigating accidents. But searches of vehicles and homes are constitutionally different, as the Cady opinion repeatedly stressed,” Thomas wrote in the court’s opinion.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion for the ruling in which he addressed existing “red flag” laws that also call into question Fourth Amendment rights.
“This case also implicates another body of law that petitioner glossed over: the so-called “red flag” laws that some States are now enacting. These laws enable the police to seize guns pursuant to a court order to prevent their use for suicide or the infliction of harm on innocent persons,” Alito wrote.
“They typically specify the standard that must be met and the procedures that must be followed before firearms may be seized,” he continued. “Provisions of red flag laws may be challenged under the Fourth Amendment, and those cases may come before us. Our decision today does not address those issues.”