The Supreme Court has unanimously struck down warrantless so-called “community caretaking” searches of homes for firearms in a decision handed down today. In the search prompting Caniglia v. Strom, Rhode Island police responded to a wellness check request by a man’s wife and confiscated his firearms.
The police hung the legality of their warrant-free search on the “community caretaking” exception that allows them to search a vehicle that they’ve impounded. But that exception has never been extended to homes. The plaintiff in the case had to sue the police department to get his guns back.
The BidenHarris administration argued for the extension of the exception to residences which would have been a dangerously broad expansion of law enforcement’s ability to search your property without ever going before a judge.
Today, however, the Supreme Court signaled — in no uncertain terms — that they aren’t interested in poking a huge hole in the Fourth Amendment.
From Forbes . . .
The court ruled that the exception could not be extended to the home without violating the Fourth Amendment, overturning two lower courts that sided with the police officers and their argument that the amendment “does not prohibit law enforcement officers from diffusing a volatile situation in a home to protect the residents or others.”
“What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his opinion for the court, noting that the previous standard that allowed the “community caretaking” exception was not “a standalone doctrine that justifies warrantless searches and seizures in the home.”
The court’s decision does not affect police officers’ ability to take “reasonable steps to assist those who are inside a home and in need of aid” that are protected under a separate “exigent circumstances” doctrine, Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted in a concurring opinion, such as when an elderly person has fallen or to prevent a potential suicide.
It’s more than a little instructive that the BidenHarris administration came down squarely on the side of giving police more power to search individuals’ homes without a warrant. As Gun Owners of America’s John Velleco wrote here regarding the implications of the case, if the Court’s decision had gone the other way . . .
It would mean yet another erosion of the ancient English notion that “a man’s home is his castle” which undergirded the Fourth Amendment. It would allow police to conduct warrantless searches of your home and seizures of your firearms on the flimsiest of excuses.
All the police would need to say was that they were there for your own good — not to investigate a crime, and they could take away the means by which you protect your own home.
Today’s 9-0 opinion should make police think twice about trying to skirt Fourth Amendment protections “for your own good.”