SCOTUS Eyes Whether Police Can Seize Guns From Homes Without Warrants

    Can police seize firearms from home?

    Image credit: Shutterstock, photographer: Konstantin L

    The United States Supreme Court has taken on a fourth amendment case that asks whether or not police can seize guns from a home without a warrant, under a previously decided case allowing for “community caretaking“. Whether or not this new case regarding the home will meet that muster or not is yet to be seen, but it will have to face tougher scrutiny in dealing with the home, rather than to a vehicle in which the community caretaking exception dealt with. This new case, Caniglia v. Strom, involves the plaintiff Edward Caniglia, his wife Kim, and several officers of the Cranston Police Department in Rhode Island.

    SUMMARY OF CANIGLIA V. STROM

    The incident occurred in August 2015, when the Caniglia’s had a heated argument. During the argument, Edward retrieved an unloaded handgun and (presumably loaded) magazine and put them on the kitchen table and asked his wife to shoot him “and get it over with”. Ultimately, Kim returned the gun to its spot and hid the magazine, then stayed at a hotel for the night, and in the morning, called a non-emergency line to law enforcement to accompany her to the house as she was worried about what she might find, though she stated that she did not fear for her own safety.

    Edward admitted to the incident but denied any suicidal thoughts. In talking with the officers, Edward agreed to go by ambulance to a hospital for a mental evaluation and claims that the officers told him that they would not confiscate his guns if he went voluntarily. Officers deny making that promise, but Edward had made it clear he did not want his property seized. Once Edward was gone, Kim directed the officers to each of the two guns, their magazines and ammunition. The Caniglia’s claim that officers informed Kim that Edward consented to the seizure of the two guns and took them with approval from a supervisor.

    Edward was not admitted as an inpatient and made attempts to retrieve his property, but the following month enlisted the help of a lawyer. In December 2015, he was finally able to retrieve his two guns. Edward filed a lawsuit against the officers and the City of Cranston for violating his Second and Fourth Amendment rights, as well as violations against several state statutes as well.

    You can read the whole text of the case as it stands now under the lower, First Circuit Court HERE.

    COMMUNITY CARETAKING, AND police “REASONABLENESS”

    The City and its officers are claiming that their action of seizing Edward’s guns from his home are covered under the community caretaking exception to warrant searches, which is based on 1973 case involving removing a bloody firearm from the trunk of an impounded, but unprotected vehicle that stemmed from a drunk driving incident. Part of that case involves taking inventory of an impounded vehicle, but the broader, more subjective take away is if officers acted “reasonably”. Several sources have noted that the community caretaking claim is one of three exceptions to warrantless searches, the other two being “exigent circumstances” and “emergency aid,” neither of which apply to Caniglia’s case. Do you think community caretaking applies to Edward Caniglia’s case? Do you think the police officers acted reasonably?

    We’ll keep you abreast of the Supreme Court’s decision when it gets handed down, but in the meantime, what do you think about the case, and how do you think the court will rule?

    Doug E

    Doug has been a firearms enthusiast since age 16 after getting to shoot with a friend. Since then he’s taken many others out to the range for their first time. He is a husband, father, grandfather, police officer, outdoorsman, artist and a student of history. Doug has been a TFB reader from the start and is happy to be a contributor of content. Doug can be reached at battleshipgrey61 AT gmail DOT com.


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