On The Front Lines
U.S. Supreme Court Rules: Police Cannot Carry Out Warrantless Home Invasions To Seize Guns as Part of ‘Community Caretaking’ Duties
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police cannot carry out warrantless home invasions in order to seize guns under the pretext of their “community caretaking” duties. Ruling that police must have a warrant or evidence of an actual emergency before invading a home without the owner’s consent, the Supreme Court has rejected attempts by police to expand their search and seizure authority under the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment. The decision in Edward A. Caniglia v. Robert F. Strom dovetails with The Rutherford Institute’s arguments that allowing police limitless discretion to enter homes flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Affiliate attorneys Michael J. Lockerby, George E. Quillen, Adrian L. Jensen and Brooke D. Clarkson of Foley & Lardner LLP assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in Caniglia.
“This was yet another blatant attempt by law enforcement to create gaping holes in the Fourth Amendment force field that is supposed to protect homeowners and their homes against warrantless invasions by the government,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Thankfully, the Supreme Court recognized that ‘we the people’ do not need another slippery slope argument allowing government officials to violate the Fourth Amendment at will under the pretext of public health and safety.”
In August 2105, Kim Caniglia of Cranston, R.I., contacted police requesting a welfare check on her 68-year-old husband Edward, whom she hadn’t spoken to since they got into an argument the night before. At one point during the argument, Edward retrieved his unloaded handgun, slammed the gun on a table dramatically, and told Kim, “Why don’t you just shoot me and get me out of my misery?” When Kim failed to reach Edward by phone the next day, she contacted the police, expressing the concern that Edward might be suicidal. When the police called Edward to check on him, and later drove to his home, they reported that Edward seemed fine, was mostly calm and told them that he would never commit suicide. Edward explained that his “just shoot me” statement was made out of frustration because he was sick of arguing with Kim. Despite Edward’s rational demeanor, police took him into custody and sent him for a psychiatric examination at a local hospital. While Edward was at the hospital, police entered his home and seized his handguns, despite having promised not to do so.
Edward Caniglia sued the police, alleging that the warrantless entry into his home and seizure of his lawfully-owned firearms violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. The lower courts ruled in favor of the police, who defended their actions by claiming that the warrantless entry and seizure fell within the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment. In reversing the lower courts, a unanimous Supreme Court held that there is no standalone “community caretaking” exception to the Constitution’s requirement that searches of homes and seizures of property may occur only pursuant to a warrant or exigent circumstances.
The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.