The Supreme Court started hearing oral arguments in Caniglia v. Strom gun confiscation case. Police officers from Cranston, Rhode Island, seized firearms from Edward Caniglia, 68, following a wellness check after an argument with his wife.
Caniglia assured the officers that he was not suicidal. They also reported that he appeared calm and normal during the encounter.
However, they made him take a psychiatrist evaluation on promises that they would not seize his guns. Caniglia was declared mentally sound after incurring a $1,000 expense. On returning home, he found that the officers had confiscated his firearms after lying to his wife that he had consented.
Since Caniglia didn’t pose any imminent danger to himself or others, the officers cited “community caretaking” as the reason for their warrantless seizure. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of such warrantless searches to protect public safety in Cady v. Dombrowski (1973).
“Local police officers, unlike federal officers, frequently investigate vehicle accidents in which there is no claim of criminal liability and engage in what, for want of a better term, may be described as community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute,” the majority opinion stated.
Caniglia challenged the illegal confiscation but the district and the appellate court ruled that the seizure was reasonable.
However, the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals noted that extending the “community caretaking” exception outside the motor vehicle to private homes was ill-defined.
It, however, ruled that the officers did not exceed their responsibilities. The court argued that the exception was necessary to provide room for police officers to take appropriate action under extenuating circumstances. Thus, it granted the officers “qualified immunity” protection.
Sadly, courts do not need to establish if the constitution was violated when granting qualified immunity. This leads to “constitutional stagnation” because courts simply ignore constitutional issues if the violation occurred when officers were executing official duty.
Caniglia attorneys lamented that upholding the ruling would give police officers a blank check to invade people’s homes. The Institute for Justice also warns that the policy would “allow warrantless entries into peoples’ homes on a whim.”
However, the Biden administration filed an amicus brief supporting warrantless searches and seizures.
“A warrant should not, however, be presumptively required when a government official’s action is objectively grounded in a non-investigatory public interest, such as health or safety,” the brief states.
Upholding this constitutional violation allows police officers to invade people’s homes under any excuse. The Institute for Justice warns of harms attributable to the potential for unreasonable searches and seizures.
Coincidentally, there’s no shortage of warrantless searches ending tragically for police officers and homeowners.
Additionally, some of the despicable policies such as the racially-motivated “stop and frisk” were rooted in warrantless searches and seizures without probable cause.
Unsurprisingly, the Biden administration is willing to look the other way when the violation affects people of a different political outlook.
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