Court Battles

Justices decline to give police more power to search homes without warrant

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously declined to give police more power to search a person’s residence without a warrant, reinforcing the longstanding principle that the home enjoys special protections under the law.

The case involved a warrantless police search of a Rhode Island man’s house and seizure of his guns based on the officers’ belief that the man was at serious risk of harming himself or others.

While the justices have long said that a so-called community caretaking exception allows police to sidestep the Constitution’s warrant requirement to search cars in certain dangerous situations, they declined to extend this concept broadly to the home.

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

The case stems from a heated marital dispute in 2015 between Edward and Kim Caniglia, during which Edward Caniglia presented a pistol to his wife and said, “Why don’t you just shoot me and get me out of my misery?”

Kim Caniglia, upset by the exchange, hid the gun’s magazine and spent the night at a hotel. The next day she called home and grew concerned when her husband did not answer. Worried that he might have harmed or even killed himself, Kim Caniglia then called the Cranston, R.I., police department and asked for officers to conduct a wellness check of her husband and escort her home.

According to Edward Caniglia’s version of events, the police showed up at his home and forced him to undergo a psychological evaluation. While he was at the hospital, the police then entered the Caniglias’ home without a warrant. The officers, citing concerns about Edward Caniglia’s state of mind and fears that he and others “could be in danger,” seized his guns.

Monday’s unanimous ruling handed a win to Caniglia. It also reversed a lower federal court that sided with police after finding that the community caretaking principle could encompass warrantless searches of the home.

Daniel Woislaw, a lawyer with the libertarian litigation firm Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed an amicus brief in the case, hailed the ruling.

“The Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that a person’s home is their castle,” Woislaw said in a statement. “The Court unanimously ruled that the government cannot invade a private house without permission, a warrant, or an emergency.”

Updated at 12:06 p.m.

Tags Clarence Thomas Cranston Police Rhode Island Supreme Court Warrantless home search
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