In an important victory for privacy rights, the U.S Supreme Court today unanimously rejected police arguments that engaging in a non-criminal “community caretaking” function allows  them to search a person’s home without a warrant. The American Civil Liberties Union of  Rhode Island had filed a “friend of the court” brief before the Court, and had represented the  petitioner in  the case in prior proceedings, arguing that an unfavorable ruling in  the case  could “give police free rein to enter the home without probable cause or a warrant, whenever  they think it is ‘reasonable’ to do so.” Today’s court decision averts that prospect.     

The  case,  dating  back  to  2015, involves  Cranston  resident  Edward  Caniglia,  whose  two  lawfully owned firearms were seized from his home without a warrant or his consent in a  non-emergency  situation as  a  result  of  a “wellness  check” conducted  by  Cranston  police  officers.  His  wife  had  called  the  police  department  to  express  concern  about  his mental  health in response to an argument they had had the night before.  

When officers arrived at his house the day after that argument, they told Caniglia that his  firearms  would  be  confiscated  unless  he  agreed  to  a  mental  health  evaluation.  Caniglia  agreed, and was  transported by ambulance  to Kent Hospital where he was evaluated and  promptly released. However, despite their assurances to the contrary, police officers entered 

Caniglia’s home in  the  meantime  and  confiscated  his  two  firearms  and  ammunition for  “safekeeping.” The officers told Caniglia’s wife that once he was cleared by the hospital, he could pick up them up at  the station. But when Caniglia  tried  to do so, he was  told it was department policy not to return weapons confiscated for safekeeping without a court order. 

ACLU cooperating attorneys Thomas Lyons and Rhiannon Huffman filed a  federal lawsuit  against the Cranston Police Department, challenging both the seizure of his weapons without  a  warrant  and the department  policy  against  returning  them  without  a  court  order. The  federal district court agreed that the department’s policy of refusing to return the firearms  was unconstitutional, but upheld the warrantless search and seizure of the weapons on the  grounds that police were engaged in a “community caretaking” function that did not require  a warrant. The federal court of appeals upheld that ruling.  

Relying on private counsel, Caniglia appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his  case to decide whether the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s  warrant requirement – an exception that arose in Supreme Court jurisprudence specifically  involving the  searches  of  cars  impounded  by  the  police – can  be  applied  to  warrantless  searches of a person’s home.  Today it ruled, in a brief unanimous opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, that it does not, stating that “[w]hat is reasonable for vehicles is different from what  is  reasonable  for  homes.” The  court’s  decision  reverses  the  lower  court  decisions  to  the  contrary. 

ACLU  of  Rhode  Island  executive  director  Steven  Brown  said  today:  “Today’s  court  decision is an extremely important victory  for privacy rights. The Fourth Amendment has  always served as an important barrier  to police intrusion into  the home, and we are very  pleased that the Court reaffirmed this fundamental principle.” 

In addition to the ACLU of Rhode Island and its National office, the ACLU’s amicus brief  was  filed  on  behalf  of  three  conservative  organizations: the  Cato  Institute,  the  American  Conservative Union Foundation, and the R Street Institute. 

The “Friend Of The Court Brief” as filed:

RIACLU caniglia_amicus_final_0


US Supreme Court To Hear Oral Arguments RE: RI Search/Seizure Case Caniglia V Strom RIACLU Amicus Brief Included – Coalition Radio Network



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