Average Joe SCOTUS: Caniglia v. Strom

This dude Edward Caniglia was a bit of a drama queen. One night, after a particularly heated argument with his wife, he grabbed his gun, and started acting like he wanted her to kill him, or he was going to kill himself.

His wife Kim was like, “This mother fucker’s crazy. I’m out!” She left, and found some other place to stay for the night, leaving him to marinate in his craziness all on his own.

The next morning, she was like, “I wonder if he really did kill himself?”

So she called the cops, and together, they headed to the house to see if “Schroedinger’s husband” was dead or alive. Not only was he alive, he was fairly chill, and nothing untoward happened when confronted by the fuzz.

He admitted to the incident, so he was taken to a hospital for a psych evaluation. In the meantime, Officer Strom, under approval from his boss, but NOT under approval by Caniglia, took Caniglia’s guns out of the home, until Caniglia’s mental health issues were squared away.

Caniglia argued that he only agreed to go to the hospital if the cops pinky-promised not to take his guns. Strom and company were like, “Dude, he never said anything like that.”

Caniglia was never admitted, and doctors essentially determined he wasn’t crazier than a shithouse rat, and let him go. But, the cops weren’t so convinced, and continued to hold the Caniglia’s guns for a few months, until they finally got sick of his bitching and moaning and gave them back.

Once returned, you’d think that would be the end of it. But oh no. Caniglia was like, “No American should suffer an injustice like I did. So I’ll do the most American thing I can do, and sue these motherfuckers for violating my constitutional rights, maybe even get a little scratch for my troubles.” And so he did.

While it might seem like a violation of the fourth amendment on the face of it, which is what he was arguing, there is a “community caretaking” exemption recognized currently, where if officers are just trying to help someone, they can’t be considered to be violating your rights. Like, let’s say they see a guy beating up his wife inside a house, they can bust in and raid her without a warrant. Or if they knock on your door, and see you lying on the floor as if you’ve passed out or died, they can come in to rescue you. Shit like that.

Well, Strom and company are essentially arguing that this is an extension of that.

Chief Justice Roberts came out asking straight forward, “Imagine some old biddy was supposed to go to her neighbor’s house for dinner, and doesn’t show up. So the neighbor calls the fuzz and asks them to check on her, because she’s more reliable than the IRS. So the cops go to the house, knock on the door and get no answer, but the door is open, so they walk the fuck on in to make sure she’s OK. But then, she’s not even home, but walks in on the officers looking for her and is like, ‘WTF are you assholes doing in my home?’ Is that a violation she can sue for?”

Fair question, that Justice Thomas also pressed on, both seemingly looking for the line that’s crossed to make community caretaking turn into something that is a violation of the person’s rights.

Counsel for Caniglia had a pretty solid argument that there was no emergency situation here, in response to Justice Kagan, who asked:

Elena Kagan

You said that the Respondents here had waived the argument that this was a true emergency. Putting the waiver question aside, why wasn’t this a true emergency?

Shay Dvoretzky

Justice Kagan, the only basis that the officers had for thinking that Mr. Caniglia was potentially suicidal was a statement that he made the night before.

But 12 hours had passed since that statement.

He was in the home with the guns during that time, nothing had happened, and the officers said that when they spoke with Mr. Caniglia, he seemed calm, normal, and polite. Those circumstances don’t make out an emergency that requires immediate action without involving a mental health professional, a neutral decision maker, and so forth, rather than just the officer’s discretion.

His argument being, if there was an emergency twelve hours ago, he had all that time to kill himself, and didn’t do it. While the officers may have just operated under the “better safe than sorry” principle, in this instance, that’s still a violation of his rights.

Counsel for Strom, takes a very liberal view of community caretaking. Take this hypothetical from Justice Barrett:

Amy Coney Barrett

Let’s talk about how far this exception might go because, obviously, there’s a lot of concern about it being an umbrella for a lot of sorts — lots of different things. Let’s say that in a town with a high rate of COVID infections, police look through the window and they can see a lot of people gathered together that are not wearing masks. Can they enter?

Marc Desisto


As you can see, Strom’s side is more than willing to come into your home, if they think they can imagine just about any cause which involves enforcing the law to save lives, which is frankly, somewhat scary.

In a unanimous decision, SCOTUS sided with liberty. The “community caretaking” exception does not extend to the home. While they agreed, officers may assist someone by entering into their home sans warrant, they can’t seize shit while they’re there, though.

Hear oral arguments and read about the case here


and here

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