ILA | The Supreme Court upholds the sanctity of the house and rejects expanded police powers in the event of weapons seizures

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In 1969, Chester Dombrowski, an off-duty Chicago police officer, had a single vehicle accident while driving under the influence. Officers who responded to the scene did not find his service weapon on him. After the drunk (and later comatose) Dombrowski was taken to the hospital and the wrecked car towed, police searched the car for the missing weapon and instead uncovered evidence that had implicated him in a murder. Dombrowski appealed against his first-degree murder conviction because the search for vehicles without guarantee and without suspicion was unconstitutional according to the fourth amendment to the constitution. in the Cady v. Dombrowskithe US Supreme Court disagreed. While police cannot search private property without consent or an arrest warrant, “except in certain carefully defined case classes,” officers have often been asked to deal with non-liability vehicle accidents. We highlighted the clear “constitutional difference between houses and cars” and noted that the “frequency with which a vehicle may become obstructed or involved in an accident” means that officials must play a “collaborative” role from which they are Criminal investigation and enforcement are “completely separate” (in Dombrowski’s case, the police seemed to already have sufficient evidence for a drunk driving charge). The search without guarantee was not inappropriate, as “basic security reasons” justified the police in taking the vehicle into custody and trying to locate the weapon.

This year the Supreme Court had an opportunity to review the scope of this ‘community maintenance’ exception and decide whether it goes beyond the automotive context. In one decision A unanimous court published on May 17 ruled that this was not the case.

The case concerned Edward Caniglia and the seizure of his firearms. In an argument with his wife he had put an unloaded pistol on her dining table and said to her: “Now shoot me and get over it.” His wife hid the gun and later left the house. The next morning, after Caniglia failed to answer her calls, she asked the Cranston, Rhode Island police to do a social check. Her proof was that she wanted the police to take her home, knock on the door and see if her husband was okay (“we would talk and if everything was okay, the officer would go”).

The police were able to reach Caniglia, which “sounded good”. The officers arrived at home and confirmed that he was calm, “appeared normal,” and said he had no intention of killing himself. The officials said there was still a risk of harm. Caniglia alleged officials promised not to confiscate his firearms if he went to the hospital for a psychiatric examination. After Caniglia was taken away, the officers not only ignored the provision, but apparently misrepresented his wife that Caniglia had consented to the confiscation. The police entered the house and confiscated the guns after his wife showed them where they were kept.

When Caniglia requested the return of his weapons, the police stopped, first asked for the police captain’s approval and later asked for a court order. Caniglia was forced to keep a lawyer and initiate the lawsuit, which went to the US Supreme Court.

At the time of the police visit, Caniglia was 68 years old and had no criminal history or record of violence. The police visit did not involve an emergency, urgent circumstance or criminal investigation. Caniglia’s guns were rightfully owned and he was never arrested. He was released from the hospital on the same day without being hospitalized and after being released by a nurse, social worker, and doctor. There was no arrest warrant or civil order authorizing the seizure. The officers’ only justification for detention, entry and seizure was that they were acting in their role of “community administrators”.

Caniglia’s lawsuit alleged violations of his state rights under the second, fourth, and fourteenth amendments, as well as state legal claims.

The court of first instance found that legal entry and seizure, as long as the officials acted sensibly, were allowed by the exception “community maintenance”, since the “community maintenance doctrine offers officials a high degree of flexibility”. However, the seizure of firearms without guidelines, customs or procedures for their return violated procedural rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

On appeal, the U.S. appeals court upheld the first circuit. In a circuit first impression case, the court (a panel including retired US Supreme Court Justice David Souter) concluded that the community caretaking exemption from warranty was extended to civil servants who exercise community caretaking functions in private premises and that the seizure of weapons was warranted under this exception. “Threats to the Safety of Individuals and Communities Are Not Just Highways,” they write, and the extension “detects”[s] What we have termed the “special role” police officers play in our society. “The police activities in question – including the seizure of firearms and lawful non-consensual entry into a home to conduct that seizure – are” a natural addition to the community maintenance exception. “

The panel formulated this expanded concept of “community caretaking” and stated that officials acting under this heading must have “solid, non-investigative reasons” based on “specific articulable facts”. Provided they acted sensibly, the officers did not have to choose the least intrusive means of reacting, nor were they bound by “using established protocols or criteria”. In contrast to urgent circumstances and exceptions for emergency aid from the warranty obligation, “care in the community” was not tied to the same “degree of immediacy” and had a “more expansive temporal scope”.

It doesn’t take a particularly vivid imagination to imagine how far law enforcement could go under this resilient new rule. One is reminded of the First Circuit’s justification for “strategically using an empty promise” to get Caniglia in an ambulance and away from home, which is in line with the “longstanding principle that deception is an established and acceptable legal tool,” enforcement . ‘”

A friend of the court report filed by the ACLU, the Cato Institute and others on the subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court stated that “everything from loud music to leaking pipes has been used to justify a lawful invasion of the house “And that the first The Circuit Caretaking exception” removes “the protection of the fourth amendment. “We have … lived our entire national history understanding the old adage that a man’s house is his castle. “… But if the decision below is correct, this castle is made of sand.”

In a unanimous and unusually brief decision, the Supreme Court categorically rejected the law’s extension Cady Exception “care” beyond the original automotive context.

Judge Clarence Thomas, who wrote for the court, criticized the version of the First Circuit exception to the “Community Caretaking” exception as being “beyond anything that this court has recognized.” The officers lacked an arrest warrant or consent, and there was no question of urgency. The officers could not claim that their actions were analogous to what a private individual might have been empowered to do under the circumstances. The earlier decision of the Court in Cady – the basis for the care exemption – was clearly based on the “unmistakable distinction between vehicles and homes”.

The “core” of the fourth amendment was “the right of a man to withdraw to his own home and to be free from unreasonable interference by the government”. The Supreme Court was unaffected by the First Circle’s alleged need to bend the law to give the police more “leeway to take appropriate action,” and faded that the “recognition that policemen have many civic duties in modern society.” fulfill, it was just that – an acknowledgment that these tasks exist, and not a perpetual license to do them anywhere. “

In one accord, Justice Samuel Alito stressed that the decision was limited to their facts: the case did not include laws allowing emergency seizures for psychiatric observation or treatment, or “red flag” laws. “Provisions of the Red Flag laws can be challenged under the Fourth Amendment, and those cases may lie ahead. Our decision today does not address these issues. ”

The Supreme Court cleared the First Circle’s decision and, in line with its opinion, remitted the case for further trial. The only authority the police relied on was the exception “community maintenance.” In this case, given that the ruling limits this power to vehicle seizures, nothing else can be suggested by the police to confirm their conduct.

The decision is a setback for the Biden Administration defended the unlawful, non-consensual seizure of weapons in this case as constitutional. President Biden has called for extensive arms control measures, including the seizure of jointly owned firearms and “investing in evidence-based community violence” – all of which would be immensely facilitated if the government, as “community administrator”, expanded the powers of entry and to confiscate property without consent, urgent circumstances or an arrest warrant.

The decision is Caniglia v. electricity20-157 (May 17, 2021).



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