On May 17th the Supreme Court of the United States (yes, SCOTUS… I’m as surprised as you are) made a ruling on Caniglia v Strom, as case where a lower court ruled that officer’s can confiscate firearms without a warrant by using the “Community Caretaking Exception” of the 4th Amendment. For those that aren’t familiar with the Community Caretaking Exception, it’s an exception that allows law enforcement to make warrantless entry into a person’s home/land/vehicle in order to aid such individual.
Ex: An officer see’s someone about to shoot someone else through a window, that officer may enter the home in order to prevent the attack.
This exception can only be used, to my understanding (and remember, I’m not a lawyer), when law enforcement needs to provide aid to citizens who are ill or in distress and it cannot be used as a pretext for investigating criminal activity. That said, it can be used to bring up criminal charges against an individual.
Before we continue on this article, I want to squash a very bad rumor that is going around about this SCOTUS ruling;
IT DOES NOT RULE THAT RED FLAG LAWS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND DOES NOT RELATE TO RED FLAG LAWS AT ALL!
Caniglia v Strom
The Plaintiff, Edward Caniglia, challenged the ruling of a Rhode Island court that ruled that law enforcement were legally allowed to confiscate his firearms without a warrant by using the “Community Caretaking Exception”. What led to this was an argument between Edward and his wife.
During the argument Edward got an unloaded firearm during the argument, put it on the table, and said something like, “Why don’t you just shoot me and put me out of my misery?”
That night his wife spent the night at a motel and couldn’t get ahold of Edward the following morning, which prompted her to call the police department in Cranston, Rhode Island for a wellness check. This is where things get a little choppy.
While performing the wellness check, Caniglia denied that he was suicidal, and that he did what he did because he was that sick of having arguments with his wife. The officers there for the wellness check thought that Caniglia was a potential risk to himself or others, so they called an ambulance.
Edward agreed to go to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation but only after the responding law enforcement allegedly promised not to confiscate his firearms. After Edward was taken away to the hospital, the law enforcement officers misinformed his wife about his wishes (so she never asked them to remove them from the household), entered the home, and took his two handguns.
This case originally went to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals where the court stated that the police were acting within the confines of the Community Caretaking Exception to the 4th Amendment when they proceeded to confiscate his firearms.
It’s important to note that during the argument neither Edward nor his wife acted aggressively towards each other.
Supreme Court’s Ruling
In a surprising turn of events the Supreme Court of the United States of America decided to take-up this 2nd Amendment related case. In this ruling Judge Clarence Thomas said, “The 1st Circuit Court’s ruling on the Community Caretaking Rule goes beyond anything this (SCOTUS) court has recognized. What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes. Cady v. Dombrowski acknowledges as much.”
After the decision was made, Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion which addressed Red Flag Laws that arguably go against the 4th Amendment as well, his concurring opinion:
“This case also implicates another body of law that the petitioner glossed over: the so-called “red flag” laws that some states are now exacting. These laws enable the police to seize the guns pursuant to a court order to prevent their use for suicide or the infliction of harm on innocent persons. They typically specify the standard that much be met and the procedures that must be followed before the firearms may be seized. Provisions of Red Flag Laws may be challenged under the Fourth Amendment, and those cases may come before us. Our decision today does not address those issues.”
Basically, this SCOTUS ruling has absolutely nothing to do with Red Flag Laws, however, Supreme Court Justices, namely Alito, Roberts Jr, Kavanaugh, and Breyer alluded that Red Flag Laws may go against a citizen’s 4th Amendment Rights.
Kavanaugh made a separate concurrence stating, “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.”
SCOTUS ruled that the “Community Caretaking Exception”, which is a court made doctrine that states that in some cases law enforcement doesn’t need a warrant to enter the home, does not justify a warrantless search and seizure in the home such as the one that happened in the Caniglia household.
This ruling has nothing to do with Red Flag Laws, but it does allude to Red Flag Laws going against the 4th Amedment.