Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Police Can Enter A Home To Seize Guns Without A Warrant

BY Herschel Smith
7 months, 1 week ago

Forbes.

The 4th Amendment right against warrantless searches of a person’s home is a pillar of Americans’ constitutional liberties. Before a police officer, or any other government official, can enter your home, they must show a judge that they have probable cause that they will discover specific evidence of a crime.

There are some limited exceptions to this right. There is an “exigent circumstances” exception. If a police officer looks through a home’s window and sees a person about to stab another person, the officer can burst through the door to prevent the attack. There is also the “emergency aid” exception. If the officer looked through the same window and saw the resident collapsing from an apparent heart attack, the officer could run into the house to administer aid. Neither of these cases violates the 4th Amendment and few would argue that it should be otherwise.

However, there is a broader cousin to these amendments called the “community caretaking” exception. It originally derives from a case in which the police took a gun out of the trunk of an impounded vehicle without first obtaining a warrant. The Supreme Court held that there is a community caretaking exception to the 4th Amendment’s warrant requirement because police perform “community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.” The Court held that police activity in furtherance of these functions does not violate the 4th Amendment as long as it is executed in a “reasonable” manner.

Note that, unlike the first two exceptions, this exception is not limited to immediate emergencies. In the Supreme Court case just described there was only a general concern that vandals might eventually break into the impounded car and steal any weapons that were in the trunk. So the community care exception is far broader than the other two.

Also, all three exceptions allow warrantless searches so long as the police officer acted “reasonably”. That is one of the easiest constitutional standards to meet and is a significantly lower standard than “probable cause”, which is required for a warrant. As long as an officer might reasonably think that a warrantless search will alleviate a danger to the community, the search is considered constitutional.

There is a vigorous debate about whether the community care exception can apply to searches of a person’s home as well as of their car. Vehicles have always had less 4th Amendment protection than homes, which are considered a person’s most private sphere. Federal courts have been divided on this question and the Supreme Court has not ruled on it until now.

The Court has just announced that it will hear arguments next month on a case that presents this issue: Caniglia v. Strom. In this case, Mr. Caniglia was arguing with his wife and melodramatically put an unloaded gun on the table and said “shoot me now and get it over with.” His wife called a non-emergency number for the police who arrived shortly thereafter. The police disagreed about whether Mr. Caniglia was acting “normal” or “agitated” but they convinced him to take an ambulance to the local hospital for evaluation. The police did not accompany him.

While he was on his way to the hospital, Mrs. Caniglia told the police that her husband kept two handguns in the home. The police decided to search his home for the guns without obtaining a warrant. (Mrs. Caniglia’s consent to have the police search their home was legally negated because the police untruthfully told her that her husband had consented to the seizure of any guns.) The police located and seized the two guns. Mr. Caniglia sued for the violation of his 4th Amendment right to privacy and his 2nd Amendment right to keep handguns in the home for self-protection.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals (which is the federal court just below the Supreme Court in Caniglia’s jurisdiction) sided with the police. The court wrote: “At its core, the community caretaking doctrine is designed to give police elbow room to take appropriate action when unforeseen circumstances present some transient hazard that requires immediate attention. Understanding the core purpose of the doctrine leads inexorably to the conclusion that it should not be limited to the motor vehicle context. Threats to individual and community safety are not confined to the highways.”

The author ends with this.  “The Supreme Court is going to take a very close look at this case and there is a good chance that they will overrule the lower court’s decision.”

I’m not so sure.  The communists (the leftist wing of the court, including Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Roberts) will certainly decide to keep the ruling of the circuit.  The law and order statists (Alito and Kavanaugh) will likely decide with the leftists, I’m afraid, even if it’s a concurring ruling disagreeing with the majority but still vote to keep the circuit ruling.

The only ones who will vote to strike down the circuit ruling will be Thomas and Gorsuch (maybe), and Barrett is a wild card, but it won’t matter what she does anyway.  This is one of those cases where you wish the supreme court would decline to take it because the damage they do is worse than the other outcome, where this ruling is only valid in the 1st Circuit.

To say that America has become a Stasi state is a grotesque understatement.


Comments

  1. On February 7, 2021 at 10:46 pm, George 1 said:

    The last time the court ruled against the police was many moons ago.

  2. On February 8, 2021 at 9:51 am, Frank Clarke said:

    I have no problem with “community caretaking” as long as any property seized is booked as “property” and not as “evidence”. If the police rescue my gun from my car after an accident that sends me to the hospital on a gurney, safeguard it until I’m able to retake possession, and then give it back to me without any fuss, what reason might I have to complain?

    This happens all the time, right? (ducks for cover…)

  3. On February 8, 2021 at 11:00 am, Ron W said:

    SCOTUS has a preference for, or so they say, of reverting to precedent. So maybe they will recur to the 1966 Miranda decision:

    “Where rights secured by the Constitution are involved, there can be no rule making or legislation which would abrogate them.” ― Miranda v. Arizona (384US436)

    You know, that’s the one which also says, “you have a right to remain silent” according to the 5th Amendment, so perhaps re: “where rights secured by the Constitution are involved”, they will also include the 2nd and 4th Amendment which includes the right to “keep and bear arms” and to “be secure in your person…and effects”, which would include your effects for personal self defense!

    But then that supposes they can read and comprehend at a Jr High level and heed the words of “the Supreme Law of the Land”.

  4. On February 8, 2021 at 2:10 pm, Sisu said:

    It is helpful to know the actual QUESTION PRESENTED:Whether the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home (https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=/docket/docketfiles/html/public/20-157.html)

    I have not researched; but find it curious that there is not a “qualified immunity” challenge based on the LEOs’ coercion / intimidation through an intentionally false and misleading statement(s): “… police untruthfully told her that her husband had consented to the seizure of any guns.”

  5. On February 8, 2021 at 5:41 pm, blake said:

    I already see an issue with the “community caretaking” exception. You get pulled over and the cops decide to tow your car because they “mistake” you for a violent felon, and, in the process relieve your vehicle of firearms under cover of “community caretaking.”

    Any law that is open to abuse will be abused.

  6. On February 8, 2021 at 9:01 pm, Billy Pilgrim said:

    Doctors now ask about firearms ownership and it is a cue to get up and leave.
    The Gun Control Act of 1968 is direct copy of the Nazi’s gun control laws.
    I have a buddy with the same first and last name of 50 other people in the USA and some of them have criminal records, he has been detained for a short duration before due to mistaken identity thanks to a middle initial that is off.
    This “caretaking” could cause problems like this.
    A few years back a woman just walked in the front door and she looked like a tweeker looking for a purse or wallet and the police said call the non-emergency line but this is a deep Red State.

  7. On February 9, 2021 at 12:33 pm, Paul B said:

    Got asked the other day at a health check and told them I was mad about Biden’s appointment.

    They said I should not worry so much.

    Bah

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This article is filed under the category(s) Police,Supreme Court and was published February 7th, 2021 by Herschel Smith.

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