Supreme Court Nixed Warrantless Seizure of Guns as Not “Community Caretaking”


On May 17th, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against warrantless seizure of guns. The First appeals court ruled in favor of the police because of a court case called “Cady v Dombrowski” in which police were allowed to seize a gun found inside an impounded vehicle under what they called a “community caretaking” situation. The SCOTUS ruled yesterday that in Caniglia v Strom, there is a significant difference between seizing a gun from an impounded vehicle and a private home, and the “community caretaking” issue is not a standalone doctrine that justified police actions.

We previously reported the original case argued two months ago. It was fairly obvious at the time that the court might be unanimous on warrantless seizure of guns. Expanding police powers over the top of the 4th Amendment was something even the liberals on the court did not wish to do.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion of the court on Caniglia v Strom:

Decades ago, this Court held that a warrantless search of an impounded vehicle for an unsecured firearm did not violate the Fourth Amendment… In reaching this conclusion, the Court observed that police officers who patrol the “public highways” are often called to discharge noncriminal “community caretaking functions,” such as responding to disabled vehicles or investigating accidents. The question today is whether Cady’s acknowledgment of these “caretaking” duties creates a standalone doctrine that justifies warrantless searches and seizures in the home. It does not…

The First Circuit’s “community caretaking” rule, however, goes beyond anything this Court has recognized. The decision below assumed that respondents lacked a warrant or consent, and it expressly disclaimed the possibility that they were reacting to a crime. The court also declined to consider whether any recognized exigent circumstances were present because respondents had forfeited the point…

True, Cady also involved a warrantless search for a firearm. But the location of that search was an impounded vehicle—not a home—“‘a constitutional difference’” that the opinion repeatedly stressed. In fact, Cady expressly contrasted its treatment of a vehicle already under police control with a search of a car “parked adjacent to the dwelling place of the owner.”

Excerpts: Justice Clarence Thomas in the majority opinion

Justice Samuel Alito, in a separate opinion, noted that Red Flag Laws might be challenged before the court as well, based upon similar 4th Amendment issues. The court did not rule on those issues at this time, but may in the future.

The issue of exigent circumstances can come up if police officers see a crime being committed, or if a homeowner is incapacitated from a medical issue or crime. Exigent means urgent, immediate, something that leaves no time for warrants. There were no exigent circumstances in the Caniglia case from Rhode Island. Justice Thomas also acknowledged that in the Caniglia case, police officers seized his firearms after “misinforming” the wife of his wishes. In other words, there was a lie involved.

“The Supreme Court today smacked down the hopes of gun grabbers across the nation. The Michael Bloombergs of the world would have loved to see the Supreme Court grant police the authority to confiscate firearms without a warrant. But the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Fourth Amendment protections in the Bill of Rights protect gun owners from such invasions into their homes.”

Erich Pratt, Senior Vice President of Gun Owners of America and the affiliated Gun Owners Foundation (The Epoch Times)


Featured photo: screenshot of official Supreme Court portrait 2020

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