WASHINGTON, DC – In a case that could have wide-ranging effects on policing in America, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments next month to decide if police can make warrantless searches of a private residence under the “community caretaking” doctrine.
FPC and FPF announce the filing of an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in the case of Caniglia v. Strom, a case about whether a “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home. https://t.co/y9vgTtdiHJ
— Firearms Policy Coalition (@gunpolicy) January 15, 2021
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from warrantless searches as one of America’s basic rights.
Before a police officer or other government official can enter a private home, they must show a judge probable cause that an item is present and that a crime has been committed.
If the judge finds there is sufficient probable cause, a search warrant is issued.
There are widely-accepted exceptions, called “exigent circumstance,” for emergency situations.
These exigent circumstances involved protection of life and evidence. If an officer sees suspects destroying evidence through a window, he can enter the home to stop the destruction.
Also, if an officer sees someone having a heart attack, the officer can enter the home to render aid.
— The Truth About Guns (@guntruth) January 27, 2021
Other than these exigent circumstances, the courts have also defined a “community caretaking” doctrine to the Fourth Amendment when it comes to policing.
In the Supreme Court case of Cady v. Dombrowski, the court held that under certain circumstances, the police may search a motor vehicle without first obtaining a warrant if they are engaged in a “community caretaking” function, meaning a duty wholly divorced from the investigation of a crime or the enforcement of criminal laws.
"The fact that the protection of the public might, in the abstract, have been accomplished by 'less intrusive' means does not, by itself, render the search unreasonable." Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 447 (1973).
Oh look, early erosion of 4A.
— Gratefullee (@brief_lee) December 2, 2020
The Supreme Court said the “community protection” exception did not violate the Fourth Amendment because:
“(Police perform) community custody functions, totally separate from detection, investigation or acquisition. evidence relating to the violation of a criminal law.”
The “community caretaking” doctrine was not limited by the court to emergency situations like exigent circumstances are. If the officer has “reasonable” cause to believe there is a danger to the community, a warrantless search is permissible.
SCOTUS grants cert in a 4A case, Caniglia v. Strom, 19-1764, on the community caretaking exception to the warrant req. And implicitly about how willing the Court should be to adopt non-law-enforcement reasonableness standards vs. a warrant requirement.https://t.co/mrv5iw1y2k pic.twitter.com/kBJp1Vjc2c
— Orin Kerr (@OrinKerr) November 21, 2020
The Constitutional Accountability Center pointed out that the ruling in Cady v. Dombrowski has been widely interpreted by lower courts to allow room for the application of the exception in a private home:
“The Court made clear, however, that the exception applied only to motor vehicles and did not extend to people’s homes. Despite the clear line drawn by the Court, numerous lower courts have extended the community caretaking exception to allow warrantless entries into, and seizures from, people’s homes.”
In the case of Caniglia v. Strom, the Supreme Court is considering whether the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement should extend to the home. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next month.
“A police officer … must act as a master of emergencies, expected to aid those in distress, combat actual hazards, prevent potential hazards … & provide an infinite variety of services to preserve and protect community safety.” 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, Caniglia v. Strom pic.twitter.com/7AchohymMr
— Chief Brooks (@ChiefBrooksNPD) May 5, 2020
The case involves Cranston, Rhode Island residents Mr. and Mrs. Caniglia. The couple was arguing inside their residence, and the husband put an unloaded handgun on the kitchen table and told his wife, “shoot me now and finish this.”
The wife called the police, and when they arrived, the police convinced the husband to go to the hospital by ambulance for a crisis evaluation. The wife then told police that her husband kept two guns in the home.
Police conducted a warrantless search of the home.
The wife’s consent was invalid because the officers falsely told her that the husband had already consented to the seizure of the guns. Police located and seized both firearms.
Thanks to YOUR support, we filed an amicus brief at the United States Supreme Court in Caniglia v. Strom, a case about whether a “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home. You can read the brief at https://t.co/9IQbagn6Ce! pic.twitter.com/Zqhrfp3xsV
— Firearms Policy Coalition (@gunpolicy) January 24, 2021
The officers had told the wife that her husband could pick up the firearms at the police station. However, when Mr. Caniglia tried to pick up the weapons, he was told it was department policy not to return weapons without a court order.
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The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the Cranston Police Department, challenging the seizure of the firearms without a warrant and the department’s policy against returning weapons without a court order.
NEW: Caniglia v Strom (1st Circuit): Opinion
"We hold today — as a matter of first impression in this circuit — that this measure of protection extends to police officers performing community caretaking functions on private premises (including homes)."https://t.co/wbjj2kVdgN pic.twitter.com/n4mtnJAA7v
— Rob Romano (@2Aupdates) March 13, 2020
The federal district court agreed the department policy was unconstitutional but ruled the warrantless search and seizure was lawful under the “community caretaking” exception. The Federal Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.
In siding with police, the Federal Court of Appeals said:
“At its core, the doctrine of community protection is designed to give police the flexibility to take appropriate action when unforeseen circumstances present a transient risk that requires immediate attention.
“Understanding the main object of the doctrine leads inexorably to the conclusion that it should not be limited to the context of the motor vehicle. Threats to individual and community safety are not limited to highways.”
[BLOG] Caniglia v. Strom: Expanding the Community Caretaking Exception to the Fourth Amendment Threatens Our Right to be Secure in Our Homes, by @LibertyLawyerIJ and @JoshWindham1. https://t.co/X4l6Dkr6sR
— Federalist Society (@FedSoc) January 22, 2021
Mr. Canigilia hired Attorney Shay Dvoretzy of the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as private counsel and brought the case to the Supreme Court. The court agreed to hear the case to decide whether the ‘community caretaking” exception can be applied to the warrantless search of a person’s home.
The ACLU of Rhode Island filed a “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case, saying:
“It (The court case) raises significant issues concerning the scope of Fourth Amendment protections and police warrantless searches of the home.”
#SCOTUS grants a #4A petition that has absolutely nothing to do with the #2A but because guns were involved, the usual suspects think this is a #2ndAmendment case. Caniglia v. Strom.https://t.co/nWOEsqaVCc pic.twitter.com/mxsjereeip
— Charles Nichols 10th year of 2A lawsuit in 9th Cir (@CRTC_Nichols) November 20, 2020
Their brief also argued that an unfavorable ruling by the court would give police too much authority:
“give police free rein to enter the home without probable cause or a warrant, whenever they think it is ‘reasonable’ to do so.”
The ACLU argued in the brief that there were only two acceptable exceptions to the Fourth Amendment protection from warrantless searches:
“(The Supreme Court) has held that warrantless home entry is constitutional in just two narrow settings: consent of an occupant or exigent circumstances.
“The [lower] courts have taken a doctrine developed for the reduced expectation of privacy associated with impounded vehicles, and applied it to the home, the apex of privacy, without justification.”
Very interesting on the “community caretaking” exception to the 4th Amendment. Clearly a slippery slope the left will definitely try to slide down.
Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Police Can Enter A Home To Seize Guns Without A Warranthttps://t.co/UJvnzdQSuA
— ShallNotBeInfringed (@ShallNotBeInfr5) February 7, 2021
In a brief filed by the respondents, Attorney Marc DeSisto wrote:
“Courts routinely allow officers to enter a residence without a warrant if the circumstances are dire and the officers’ actions are both limited and based on sound police procedure.
“Even the few decisions that have declined the application of the community caretaking doctrine to private property recognize that police officers can—and should—respond to urgent situations in the home involving the potential for violence or injury without being required to obtain a warrant.”
The brief said that the argument is especially true if there are no criminal consequences to the search:
“Numerous courts have allowed warrantless entry to keep the peace, some under the name of ‘community caretaking’ and several employing the ‘exigent circumstances’ or ‘emergency aid’ exceptions. Neither of the latter two exceptions precisely fit the unique circumstances of this case, but it is the legal theory, and not the nomenclature, that must carry the day.”
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,
— Brook Burg (@BrookBurg) February 7, 2021
The brief said that there is no good reason to limit the “community caretaking” standard to automobiles because the issue was not whether the firearm in Cady was in a vehicle, but that the firearm was in an accessible location where it could pose an imminent danger. The brief wrote:
“While recognizing the difference between an automobile and a home, this Court did not limit Cady to automobile searches. Rather, it simply applied the community caretaking concept to the facts before it. The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit law enforcement officers from diffusing a volatile situation in a home to protect the residents or others.”
The respondents ended their brief by saying the lower court’s ruling did not give police unrestrained authority to conduct warrantless searches but gave them the ability to save lives:
“The First Circuit did not give law enforcement carte blanche to search a home for contraband or weapons. Rather, the First Circuit established clear, constitutionally sound guidelines for law enforcement given the unique facts of this case, where no criminal charges were brought and where a focused search and seizure ensured that a dangerous situation had been averted.”
Supreme Court oral argument for Caniglia v. Strom has been scheduled for March 24th. The case will resolve whether the community caretaking doctrine covers warrantless home entries: pic.twitter.com/cZuDgtFNLT
— Colin Miller (@EvidenceProf) February 1, 2021
The Supreme Court has scheduled case arguments for March 24, 2021. Law Enforcement Today will follow the case and provide updates as the court case develops.
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