Supreme Court Unanimously Rejects Warrantless Gun Seizure

The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 on Monday that Rhode Island police officers acted illegally when they seized a man’s guns without a warrant.

Edward Caniglia sued the city of Cranston, Rhode Island, after police officers located and took his guns while he was in the hospital for a mental health wellness check. He argued that the seizure violated his Fourth Amendment rights, although two federal courts ruled against him. Those courts relied on a provision of the law that allows police to seize guns from drivers while on the road.

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Supreme Court Overrules Lower Court – Police Officers Violated Fourth Amendment – Unlawful Search And Seizure Of Firearms

By Staff – May 18, 2021

The Supreme Court unanimously overruled the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Caniglia v. Strom, according to The Red State.

Caniglia v. Strom is a case in which law enforcement officers seized weapons from an individual without a warrant that had not been charged of any crime.

A domestic dispute between Caniglia and his wife called for a visit from the local police department.

The issue was brought to tranquility and Mr. Caniglia ‘voluntarily’ agreed to a psychiatric examination.

Caniglia was transported by police officers to the hospital.

Allegedly, at the request of Mrs. Caniglia, police entered Caniglia’s home.

Upon being asked into the residence, the police officers confiscated two firearms.

The Court ruled that police misled Mrs. Caniglia regarding their intentions and that she did not give consent for the officers to take the handguns.

Mr. Canglia filed a lawsuit against the local law enforcement officers with claims that they performed an unlawful search and seizure of his firearms.

The firearms were not in any way connected to a search for evidence of criminal activity.

The First Court ruled in favor of the police and did not find the search and seizure of weapons as an “unreasonable” search in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which the Supreme Court has now overruled.

From The Red State:

This doctrine has arisen over the course of several decades and began with the 1973 Supreme Court case of Cady v. Dombrowski. That case involved the search by police in Wisconsin of the trunk of a Chicago police officer’s personal vehicle based on a belief that the off-duty officer’s police weapon might be in the trunk of the car. The car was parked in a mechanic’s garage after it had been involved in an accident. Cady was drunk at the time of the accident, lapsed into a coma at the hospital, and could not answer questions after his car was towed. The Wisconsin police searched his vehicle because they believed Chicago PD policy required Cady to have it with him at all times.

But the search of the trunk uncovered evidence of a murder committed by Cady the day before the accident. The Supreme Court upheld the warrantless search of the trunk against a Fourth Amendment challenge because exceptions to the warrant requirement already exist for automobiles, and also because the purpose of searching Cady’s vehicle was non-investigatory. It was done to safeguard the community against the possibility that others might break into the car and discover the firearm.

In Caniglia, the First Circuit — for the first time — extended the “community caretaking function” to include the warrantless search of a residence, upholding the lower court judgment in favor of the police in the civil action brought by Caniglia for an unlawful search of his house.

Justice Thomas made short work of the outcome of the case, writing an opinion that, outside of the facts, covers only two pages.

Cady’s unmistakable distinction between vehicles and homes also places into proper context its reference to “community caretaking.” This quote comes from a portion of the opinion explaining that the “frequency with which . . . vehicle[s] can become disabled or involved in . . . accident[s] on public highways” often requires police to perform noncriminal “community caretaking functions,” such as providing aid to motorists. 413 U. S., at 441. But, this 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.

The alternative to this outcome would have been potentially enormous because it would have set off a frenzy of “gun-grabbing” conduct by law enforcement officials in states and localities where there is overt hostility to the issue of private gun ownership. Only the creativity of the police officials would have limited the “community caretaker” justifications they would have employed to give them grounds to enter a private residence without a warrant in order to seize lawfully owned firearms located inside. It would have made private gun ownership subject to whatever articulation of “reasonableness” could be conjured up after the fact by the seizing authorities.

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