The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday wiped away a lower court decision that held that law enforcement could enter a Rhode Island man’s home and seize his firearms without a warrant after his wife expressed fear that he might harm himself.
A lower court had allowed the search, holding that the decision to take the firearms without a warrant fell within the Fourth Amendment’s “community caretaking exception.”
But Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, held that the lower court’s broad interpretation of the exception “goes beyond anything this Court has recognized.”
While the court has recognized that police officers can perform “many civic tasks in modern society,” there is “not an open-ended license to perform them anywhere,” Thomas wrote.
“The very core of the Fourth Amendment,” Thomas wrote, is the “right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable search and seizure.”
The case involved Edward Caniglia, who in a dispute with his wife in 2015 brought out his gun and put it on the dining room table, asking his wife to shoot him now “to get it over with.”
She declined, and left to spend the night in a hotel. The next morning she could not reach her husband by phone and called the police to ask them to check in on her husband’s welfare. Upon meeting Caniglia, law enforcement believed he posed a risk to himself, and they called a hospital so he could be admitted for psychiatric evaluation. After the ambulance left, they seized his weapons.
Caniglia later sued and said that when police entered his home to seize his weapon they violated the Fourth Amendment because they had no warrant.