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U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Conviction on Illegal Search & Seizure

Caniglia v. Strom Docket: 20-157, Opinion Date: May 17, 2021. During an argument with his wife, Caniglia placed a handgun on a table and asked his wife to “shoot [him] and get it over with.” His wife left and spent the night at a hotel. The next morning, unable to reach her husband by phone, she called the police to request a welfare check. Officers encountered Caniglia on the porch of his home and called an ambulance, believing that Caniglia posed a risk to himself or others. Caniglia agreed to go to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation if the officers would not confiscate his firearms. After Caniglia left, the officers located and seized his weapons. Caniglia sued, claiming that the officers had violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The First Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the officers, extrapolating from the Supreme Court’s “Cady” decision a theory that the officers’ removal of Caniglia and his firearms from his home was justified by a “community caretaking exception” to the warrant requirement. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. Cady held that a warrantless search of an impounded vehicle for an unsecured firearm did not violate the Fourth Amendment in light of the officers’ “community caretaking functions.” Searches of vehicles and homes are constitutionally different; the core of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee is the right of a person to retreat into his home and “free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.”

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