The Biden administration is set to argue to the Supreme Court that police should be allowed to confiscate guns from a person’s home without a warrant.© Provided by Washington Examiner
The administration argues, In its amicus brief ahead of Wednesday’s oral arguments in Caniglia v. Strom, that “the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‘reasonableness,’” insisting that warrants “should not” be “presumptively required when a government official’s action is objectively grounded in a non-investigatory public interest, such as health or safety.”
At issue is the case of 68-year-old Edward Caniglia, who in August 2015 joked to his wife Kim that he never uses a coffee mug his brother-in-law had used out of fear he “might catch a case of dishonesty.”
The joke did not sit well with his wife, which caused a heated argument. Caniglia went to the bedroom and came back with a pistol, set it on the table, and told his wife to “shoot me and get me out of my misery.”
When the stunt failed to stop the argument, Caniglia decided to take a drive to cool off.
The drive didn’t work, and the argument resumed when Caniglia returned home. This time, his wife decided it was time to cool off and left the home to stay the night in a hotel.
The next day, she called the house but didn’t receive an answer. Concerned, she called police to ask for a wellness check on Caniglia. When officers arrived, they spoke to Caniglia on the back deck of the home, writing in an incident report that he “seemed normal” and “calm for the most part.”
But the incident report also noted that Caniglia told officers that he would “never commit suicide,” even though officers never asked him any questions about his risk of suicide, violence, or history of firearm misuse. The voluntary nature of Canigilia’s admission caused them to encourage him to go to a local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, even though police admitted they “did not consult any specific psychological or psychiatric criteria” or any medical professionals for the decision.
Caniglia initially refused the request for a mental health screening, insisting that it was none of the officers' business. He only agreed to it when officers promised his guns would not be seized while he was gone.
But officers did seize Caniglia’s guns after he left the home, even falsely telling his wife that he had agreed to the seizures, prompting her to lead officers to the two handguns the couple owned. Caniglia was immediately discharged from the hospital, but he only regained possession of his firearms after filing a civil rights lawsuit against police.
Police argued that they did not take Caniglia’s guns because of an imminent emergency but instead used a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment called “community caretaking” to justify their actions that day. The community caretaking exception, originally created by the Supreme Court for cases such as removing inoperable cars from the highway, doesn’t address expansions of the exemption in cases of private homes.
But the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the seizures as “reasonable” under the community caretaking exception, even though it admitted, “The doctrine’s reach outside the motor vehicle context is ill-defined.” But the decision extended the reach of the exception into private homes, ruling that police “did not exceed the proper province of their community caretaking responsibilities.”
Now the case will be heard by the Supreme Court, where attorneys for Caniglia argue “extending the community caretaking exception to homes would be anathema to the Fourth Amendment” because it “would grant police a blank check to intrude upon the home.”
A joint amicus brief filed by the ACLU, the Cato Institute, and the American Conservative Union agreed, saying that in jurisdictions where the community caretaking exception has extended to homes that “everything from loud music to leaky pipes have been used to justify warrantless invasion of the home.”
“When every interaction with police or request for help can become an invitation for police to invade the home, the willingness of individuals to seek assistance when it is most needed will suffer,” the brief argues.
In a separate amicus brief, the Institute for Justice argued that expanding the community caretaking exemption to private homes to “allow warrantless entries into peoples’ homes on a whim” would invoke “the arbitrary, looming threat of general writs that so incited the Framers,” which would undermine “the right of the people to be secure” in their homes.
“The Fourth Amendment protects our right to be secure in our property, which means the right to be free from fear that the police will enter your house without warning or authorization,” said Institute for Justice attorney Joshua Windham. “A rule that allows police to burst into your home without a warrant whenever they feel they are acting as ‘community caretakers’ is a threat to everyone’s security.”