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Caniglia v. Strom 539 U.S. ____ (2021) - Analysis by Brian Foley Houston Criminal Defense Attorney

Can the police search your home for weapons without a warrant? In a 9-0 opinion the Supreme Court Decided that police officers couldn't search Caniglia's home after he asked his wife to shoot him. The case was less about what he did or the dangerousness of guns and more about the lower court's misreading of

Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U. S. 433 (1973).


If you're new to reading or analyzing opinions form the Supreme Court of the United States or (SCOTUS) this is a good one to break you in. Its only 17 pages from top to bottom and the majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas is only about 4 pages.


THE FACTS:

Edward Caniglia had an argument with his wife and put a gun on the table saying to just shoot him now and get it over with. The police were called and he agreed to go have a psychological evaluation in exchange for them not entering his home and seizing his firearms. They did it anyway and the lower courts found that the police could enter the home without a warrant and seize the firearms based on the community caretaking function described in the 1973 case of Cady v. Dombrowski.


THE DECISION:

The lower court didn’t bother to consider other legal frameworks like consent or exigent circumstances. “All that mattered was that respondents’ efforts to protect petitioner and those around him were distinct from the normal work of criminal investigation, and fell within the realm of reason[.]” (interal quotes omitted) The Supreme Court bascially slapped the lower court in the face with a 9-0 opinion that was so short. They basically said, "Bro did you even read Cady v. Dombrowski? Its about cars bro not people's houses. Next time maybe you should at least consider alternative legal theories like exigent circumstances before you just grant the police more power willy nilly. Reversed!" This is how it went in my head.


The lower court called it, “sound police procedure.”


The Supreme Court of the United States rejected this analysis in a 9—0 opinion reaffirming that, “‘the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.’” Florida v. Jardines, 569 U. S. 1, 6 (2013). The court did not foreclose the possibility that even under similar facts the police could “‘render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.’” Kentucky v. King, 563 U. S. 452, 460, 470 (2011); see also Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U. S. 398, 403–404 (2006) (listing other examples of exigent circumstances).


THE CONCURRENCE:

The Chief Justice issued a concurrence which simply stated that there was still an exception for exigent circumstances which allows police to enter a home when there is an health or medical emergency or persons inside a home are in danger.


This opinion was heralded as a win for 2nd amendment rights advocates and gun owners. I'm not sure it goes that far. The majority opinion only mentions the 4th amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. There is no analysis of the 2nd amendment and if the defendant was inside the home threatening the wife with the gun there would have been no question that the Court would have approved the officers entering the home without a warrant and seizing the weapon as evidence. If the Biden administration was planning on a mass confiscation of weapons through new federal legislation or more likely an executive order he will be challenged on second amendment grounds as well as 4th amendment grounds if it comes down to home confiscation without more than probable cause that a firearm is inside the residence. Even if legislation made it illegal to have a firearm in the home officers would still need a warrant to confiscate a weapon from an individual's home.




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