One of the most important Fourth Amendment rights is protection from warrantless police searches in our homes. But a community caretaking exception gives the police the ability to conduct warrantless searches in some cases. The US Supreme Court heard argument in late March in a case that could expand this exception and expand searches for weapon and drug distribution offenses, among other crimes, in Maryland.
Community caretaking exception
Previously, the US Supreme Court allowed a community caretaking exception allowing warrantless searches. This authorizes searches that further community caretaking functions that are totally separate from the detection, investigation or gathering of evidence relating to a crime.
Typically, this exception applied to vehicle searches. This case may expand it to homes.
In Aug. 2015, Edward Caniglia gave his wife an unloaded gun and asked that she kill him. She refused, called 911 and spent that night in a hotel.
The next morning, she called the Cranston, Rhode Island police department’s non-emergency number. She asked the police to perform a wellness check on her husband because of his behavior and potential for self-harm.
Police spoke to Caniglia and he confirmed that he asked his wife to shoot him. A couple of the officers reported that he was calm and cooperated.
However, the ranking officer said that Caniglia was an imminent threat to himself and others and arranged for an ambulance take him to a psychiatric evaluation. He agreed to go to the hospital if the police did not confiscate his handguns.
Police claimed that they did not agree to that condition. Two officers, however, convinced his wife that he consented to a search of his home. She took the police to his handguns and ammunition. Police seized these weapons and ammunition and said that these weapons would pose a danger to the couple and their neighbors.
Caniglia was evaluated at the hospital but was not admitted. Police did not charge him with any crimes. After several unsuccessful requests, the police returned his weapons and ammunition in Dec.
Caniglia sued the City of Cranston and individual police officers and charged that his Fourth Amendment rights, among other things, were violated because the seizures of his person and weapons was unreasonable.
The federal district court ruled against Caniglia on most of his claims. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals also sided with the police. The Court, however, also extended the caretaking exception beyond situations with vehicles.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ultimate ruling could impact the police search for drugs and other items in a person’s home or car. An attorney can help people protect their rights.