Washington, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that warrantless seizures of firearms from Americans’ homes is unconstitutional and violated the Fourth Amendment.
The nation’s highest court found in favor of Edward Caniglia from Cranston, Rhode Island on May 17.
Caniglia’s guns were taken by police after his wife said she was worried he would hurt himself, according to the ABA Journal.
The seizure occurred after he had a fight with his wife and took out an unloaded handgun and put it on the table and told her to shoot him and put him out of his misery.
Caniglia stormed out of the house, so his wife hid his gun and then went to spend the night elsewhere, NPR reported.
When she couldn’t reach him the next morning, she called the Cranston police to do a welfare check and escort her to their home.
Caniglia was on his front porch when they arrived and officers worked to convince him to go to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation even though they wrote in their police report that he “seemed normal” and “was calm for the most part,” according to the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).
He agreed to go, but only after police allegedly promised not to confiscate his firearms, the ABA Journal reported.
But after Caniglia was gone, officers told his wife that he had agreed to have his weapons confiscated, FEE reported.
Then they entered the home and seized two guns, the ABA Journal reported.
Caniglia was evaluated and released from the hospital the same day, but police refused to return his legally-owned weapons that had been removed without a warrant, FEE reported.
So he filed a lawsuit that alleged police had illegally searched his home and seized his guns.
The lower courts ruled that police could enter Caniglia’s home and take his weapons under the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement that applied to homes and cars, the ABA Journal reported.
The exception is a 50-year-old Supreme Court doctrine created to give law enforcement a legal way to remove cars from the side of the interstate and clear car crashes, according to FEE.
The First Circuit called the exception “ill-defined” but allowed that the rule extended to private homes.
Attorneys for Caniglia argued that it was a violation of the Fourth Amendment and gave police cart blanche to intrude on the home.
The unlikely bedfellows at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Cato Institute, and the American Conservative Union filed an amicus brief together in support of Caniglia that pointed to jurisdictions that have extended that “community caretaking” exception to permit warrantless entries into homes over loud music and leaky pipes, FEE reported.
The Biden administration and attorneys general from seven different states asked the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court’s ruling and uphold warrantless home entry and gun confiscations by law enforcement.
While that wouldn’t shock anybody who has listened to Vice President Kamala Harris’ support of mandatory gun buybacks – otherwise known as gun confiscation – some civil rights advocates were horrified, FEE reported.
“The Fourth Amendment protects our right to be secure in our property, which means the right to be free from fear that the police will enter your house without warning or authorization,” an amicus brief filed by the Institute for Justice read. “A rule that allows police to burst into your home without a warrant whenever they feel they are acting as ‘community caretakers’ is a threat to everyone’s security.”
On May 17, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found in favor of Caniglia, the ABA Journal reported.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a unanimous ruling that the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston’s interpretation of the community caretaking rule “goes beyond anything this court has recognized.”
Thomas noted that “recognition that police officers perform many civic tasks in modern society was just that — a recognition that these tasks exist, and not an open-ended license to perform them anywhere,” according to NPR.
“What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes,” he wrote.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. wrote a concurrence that said the court’s decision implicated but did not address “red flag” laws that allowed law enforcement to confiscate guns to prevent someone from hurting themselves or others with a court order, the ABA Journal reported.
Alito also pointed to warrantless searches of a home to check if a resident is in need of help but unable to summon it and said current precedent didn’t address that sort of situation.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote similar things in their own concurrences, and Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer signed on to the chief justice’s concurrence, the ABA Journal reported.
“The court’s decision does not prevent police officers from taking reasonable steps to assist those who are inside a home and in need of aid,” Kavanaugh wrote.