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09/05/2020

Caniglia v. Strom: Possible Case of Originalist Interest for the Next Supreme Court Term
Michael Ramsey

Via SCOTUSblog, a petition file recently in Caniglia v. Strom asks "Whether the 'community caretaking' exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home."  Originalist answer: I bet it doesn't, and indeed I bet the entire 'community caretaking' exception is something the Court made up in its more freewheeling days.  As SCOTUSblog summarizes:

[O]fficers questioned Edward Caniglia at his home after his wife expressed concern that he might be suicidal. They took him to a hospital and then entered the home and removed two handguns. The officers’ justification for the entry and seizures was the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The Supreme Court’s first case recognizing that exception, Cady v. Dombrowski, involved officers searching the trunk of a car towed after an accident. Since then the federal courts of appeals have divided on whether the exception applies to the home or only to motor vehicles. Caniglia filed a cert petition, asking the Supreme Court to resolve this split and hold that the exception cannot justify warrantless intrusions inside a home.

From the petition

In Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973), this Court held that police officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they searched the trunk of a car that had been towed after an accident. The Court acknowledged that, “except in certain carefully defined classes of cases,” police cannot search private property without consent or a warrant. Id. at 439. It emphasized, however, that “there is a constitutional difference between houses and cars.” Id. (quoting Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 52 (1970)). “[P]olice officers . . . frequently investigate vehicle accidents in which there is no claim of criminal liability and engage in what, for want of a better term, may be described as community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.” Id. at 441. The Court thus held that a “caretaking ‘search’ conducted . . . of a vehicle that was neither in the custody nor on the premises of its owner . . . was not unreasonable solely because a warrant had not been obtained.” Id. at 447–48.

Cady drew on a line of cases “treating automobiles differently from houses” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 441; see also id. at 439–47 (discussing other automobile cases). And the Court limited Cady’s rule to vehicle searches. ...

In the decades since Cady, however, the so-called “community caretaking” exception has taken on a life of its own. Courts across the country are deeply divided about whether the “community caretaking” exception can justify a warrantless intrusion into a home. There is at least a four-to-three split on that question among the federal Courts of Appeals. State courts are similarly divided. Courts have acknowledged the split repeatedly, as did the Defendants in their briefing below. ...

(Petition filed on behalf of Mr. Caniglia by former Scalia clerk Shay Dvoretzky.)

The courts have a sorry history of (a) saying the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply as strictly to cars because, well, cars are different somehow (never mind that there were personal vehicles at the time of enactment, albeit without engines, and cars are obviously "effects" protected by the Amendment), and then (b) letting whatever exception is made up for cars extend to other situations in ways that obviously wouldn't have been accepted in the founding era.  Fortunately the Supreme Court has been cutting back on this practice, and Caniglia may be an opportunity to make some more progress in that direction.