The Supreme Court of the United States has taken up a case that could have huge implications for both the 2nd and 4th amendments in the Bill of Rights. The principle this case hinges is called the “community caretaking” exception.
According to Forbes, the “community caretaking” exception and how it relates to firearms came up in a case where a firearm was confiscated from an impounded vehicle without a warrant. The supreme court ruled that police have a duty to perform “community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.”
This exception has a lower threshold than probable cause, “As long as an officer might reasonably think that a warrantless search will alleviate a danger to the community, the search is considered constitutional.”
For the most part, this exception has been applied to vehicles, but recent court cases have shown that police have used this exception to confiscate weapons from inside a home. So far lower court rulings have been split on the matter and the supreme court has not set a precedent, but that is about to change.
The Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments for the case of Caniglia v. Strom.
Here is the breakdown of the case reported by Forbes:
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.Forbes
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Caniglia stating that, “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.”
Many believe that this will give the police too much leeway in executing warrantless searches and will be in direct violation of the 4th amendment. Forbes predicts that the case will be overturned.
This is a very important case and we will keep everyone up to date as the case makes its way through the supreme court.