Unanimous Supreme Court rejects warrantless seizure of firearms from home

by WorldTribune Staff, May 17, 2021

In a unanimous ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court sided with a Rhode Island man who had two guns confiscated from his home by police who did not have a warrant.

The Justices ruled it was a violation of the man’s Fourth Amendment rights.

“The Fourth Amendment protects ‘[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. “The ‘very core’ of this guarantee is ‘the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.’ ”

The Rhode Island police were responding to a domestic disturbance allegedly involving Edward Caniglia.

The police, citing mental health concerns, seized two handguns while in the home, though Caniglia had no criminal or violent history. His wife had reported she was concerned he was suicidal.

No charges were filed against Caniglia and he agreed to have a psychological evaluation.

Caniglia launched a legal battle against the police when he was unable to get his firearms returned, saying his Fourth Amendment rights were infringed.

The “community caretaker” exception to the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure was at issue in the case. The exception allows law enforcement to search vehicles during times of emergency without first getting a warrant.

The 1st U.S. District Court of Appeals sided with law enforcement, ruling the community caretaker exception could extend into the home.

In reversing the lower court’s ruling, the Supreme Court said Monday that cars and homes should be treated differently, because law enforcement responds to accidents on the highway.

“What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes,” Justice Thomas wrote.

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