Fourth Amendment Debate Over Excuse to Enter Homes Without a Warrant to Seize Firearms

By Faye Higbee

Police in Cranston, Rhode Island seized Edward Caniglia’s two firearms specifically after telling his wife Kim that they were doing so at his request. They lied. And it took a court order to get the revolvers back. At issue is whether or not the Fourth Amendment was violated by the police when they went into Mr. Caniglia’s home without a warrant, and used dishonesty to do what they wanted.

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The case stems from an argument Caniglia had with his wife, Kim, on Aug. 20, 2015, in which he retrieved an unloaded gun and said, “Why don’t you just shoot me and get me out of my misery.”

Kim hid the gun under a mattress. The dispute continued, spurring Kim to pack a bag and spend the night at a hotel. She called Cranston police for assistance the next morning after Caniglia failed to pick up his phone.

Officers at the scene questioned Caniglia, who told an account similar to his wife’s but said he would never commit suicide. Officers sent him to Kent Hospital for an evaluation, a step Caniglia said he only agreed to with the assurance that police wouldn’t take his guns. Officers instead seized the guns and ammunition after his wife showed him where they were. She was told, she said, that her husband had agreed to the seizure. Caniglia was released from the hospital the same day.

Providence Journal

The case of Caniglia v Strom was argued before the Supreme Court, with Mr Caniglia’s attorney on March 24. The Biden administration attempted to intervene, siding with the police by saying “the Fourth Amendment permits a warrantless seizure or home entry that is reasonably necessary to protect health or safety.” Police in this case stated that they were operating in a “community caretaking capacity.”

Even leftist Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared to take issue with what happened, noting, “there was no immediate danger to the person threatening suicide and no immediate danger to the wife because the suicide person was removed to a hospital.”

Sotomayor said that she did not have a problem with the man being forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and noted that the issue was police “going into the home without attempt to secure consent from the wife and seizing the gun and then keeping it indefinitely until a lawsuit is filed.”

“The wife tried to get it back. He tried to get it back. Weeks and weeks went by,” Sotomayor noted. “When we permit police to search and seize without some standard, we run the risk of situations like this one repeating themselves.”

Daily Wire

She is right, and we rarely agree with Justice Sotomayor.

Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

At issue in this case is the Fourth Amendment: if police are allowed to access homes by dishonesty there is nothing left of the Fourth Amendment. But they should be able to enter a home if there is an actual emergency, which in this case did not exist. Example, if a person is lying on the floor unconscious and when they look through the window they see it, that’s how lives are saved. But when police lie because they want to take someone’s firearms and decide it’s ok to keep them indefinitely, that’s not integrity. Police must have a standard, which is what was argued before the court on the 24th.

The Fourth Amendment does not have an exception for guns. Either we have the right to be secure in our own homes or we do not. What kind of repercussions could this case have? Could it affect the states that have “red flag laws?” Stay tuned. The decision will be released at some point in the future.

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Featured photo: screenshot file

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