Two recent unanimous Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) opinions in cases decided in 2021 have bolstered an individual’s right to be secure from the government in his own home. Quite simply, individuals have more right to be safe from illegal intrusion by police officers today than they did yesterday, or last month.
Caniglia v. Strom (2021)
Edward Caniglia got into an argument with his wife. He grabbed an unloaded gun and placed it on the table where they were sitting and said “Why don’t you just shoot me and get me out of my misery.”
His wife left the house and called the police for a “wellness check.” The police interviewed Caniglia, and took him to a local hospital for evaluation. Caniglia had no criminal record or any history of violence.
After taking him to the hospital, police returned to Caniglia’s home and confiscated his guns. The officers asserted the “community caretaking” exception to enter his home without a search warrant. Officers believed this course of action was “reasonable to do so based on Caniglia’s state of mind.” Officers stated that they feared that he could be a danger if guns remained in the home.
In a unanimous decision, SCOTUS determined that the removal of an individual’s firearms from his home by police officers under a “community caretaking exception” violates the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
the Court also noted that the officers who patrol the “public highways” are often called to discharge noncriminal “community caretaking functions,” such as responding to disabled vehicles or investigating accidents. But searches of vehicles and homes are constitutionally different. The very core of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee is the right of a person to retreat into his or her home and “there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.” recognition of the existence of “community caretaking” tasks, like rendering aid to motorists in disabled vehicles, is not an open-ended license to perform them anywhere.
Lange v. California (2021)
A California highway patrol officer, thought Lange was violating a noise ordinance, followed him, and when Lange entered his driveway, the officer put on his flashing lights.Lange said he didn’t notice the police car and drove into his garage. The officer, in “hot pursuit,” got out of his car and put his foot under the closing garage door sensor to force the door open again. He had no warrant to enter the home, but once inside, said he smelled liquor on Lange’s breath and arrested him, not only for the original noise violation, but also for driving under the influence.
The Supreme Court has long held that officers can pursue a fleeing FELON without a warrant. This case deals with whether a much more minor issue such as a misdemeanor also allows the police to ignore the necessity of securing a warrant. Today the Court answered that question definitively in a unanimous decision.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police cannot always enter a home without a warrant when pursuing someone for a minor crime. The Court’s Fourth Amendment precedent points toward assessing the issue case by case to determine when a misdemeanants’ flight creates a totality of circumstances which shows an emergency—a need to act before it is possible to get a warrant—which may allow the police to act without waiting for a warrant. Those circumstances include the flight itself. But pursuit of a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing a warrantless home entry.