The Demise Of Warrantless Community Caretaking Searches

 The United States  Supreme Court on Monday ruled in Canigilia v. Strom  that police violated a  man’s constitutional rights by seizing his guns without a warrant amid fears that he would kill himself.Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion for the unanimous high court, rejecting lower court arguments that the “community caretaking” exception to the warrant requirement allowed officers to seize the guns based on legitimate safety concerns for the man and his wife. as reported by Professor Douglas Berman in his Sentencing Law & Policy blog “  The start and close of the short opinion for the Court by Justice Thomas serves as a useful summary:Decades ago, this Court held that a warrantless search of an impounded vehicle for an unsecured firearm did not violate the Fourth Amendment.  Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973).  In reaching this conclusion, the Court observed that police officers who patrol the “public highways” are often called to discharge noncriminal “community caretaking functions,” such as responding to disabled vehicles or investigating accidents.  Id., at 441.  The question today is whether Cady’s acknowledgment of these “caretaking” duties creates a standalone doctrine that justifies warrantless searches and seizures in the home.  It does not….What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes.  Cady acknowledged as much, and this Court has repeatedly “declined to expand the scope of . . . exceptions to the warrant requirement to permit warrantless entry into the home.”  Collins, 584 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 8).  We thus vacate the judgment below and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.Intriguingly, Justices Alito and Kavanaugh write distinct concurring opinions, both longer than the opinion of the Court, in order to set out questions unresolved and examples of what Justice Kavanaugh views as “warrantless entries that are perfectly constitutional under the exigent circumstances doctrine.”  Here is a notable passage from Justice Alito’s concurrence that brings to mind a famous commercial (footnotes removed):Today, more than ever, many people, including many elderly persons, live alone.  Many elderly men and women fall in their homes, or become incapacitated for other reasons, and unfortunately, there are many cases in which such persons cannot call for assistance.  In those cases, the chances for a good recovery may fade with each passing hour.  So in THE CHIEF JUSTICE’s imaginary case, if the elderly woman was seriously hurt or sick and the police heeded petitioner’s suggestion about what the Fourth Amendment demands, there is a fair chance she would not be found alive.  This imaginary woman may have regarded her house as her castle, but it is doubtful that she would have wanted it to be the place where she died alone and in agony.”

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