US Supreme Court hears arguments on ‘community caretaking’ warrant exception
MarkThomas / Pixabay
US Supreme Court hears arguments on ‘community caretaking’ warrant exception

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Caniglia v. Strom Wednesday, a case where the court is to decide if “community caretaking” is considered an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s general prohibition on warrantless searches and seizures.

The case involves a dispute between a married couple and subsequent seizure of weapons from their home. In 2015, Edward Caniglia and his wife began arguing after Caniglia presented weapons to her and requested that she help him commit self-harm. His wife ultimately called law enforcement, who arrived at the scene and arranged an ambulance for Caniglia to receive mental health care. Despite Caniglia’s objections to any seizure of his weapons, the police went through his home and took guns, citing that Caniglia posed a danger to himself and his surrounding community.

Caniglia brought a civil suit, arguing that the seizure, of both his person and property, was illegal under the Fourth Amendment.

The lower courts disagreed. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court ruling that, consistent with Cady v. Dombrowski, law enforcement may enter the home and seize items if the purpose is “community caretaking.” Previously, this doctrine had only been applied in situations involving vehicles.

“Nearly every page of the [Cady] decision relies on the constitutional differences between cars and houses,” the attorney for Caniglia argued at oral argument, drawing a distinction between the precedent cited and the current context.

On the other side, the attorney for the respondents contended that Caniglia’s “all or nothing approach is contrary to the reasonableness standard of the Fourth Amendment,” and further argued, “that there may be circumstances that allow caretaking in the home absent a warrant.”

Some contend that if the First Circuit’s ruling is upheld, it could lead to police misconduct. Others argue that a community caretaking exception is needed to stop suicides.