Tag Archives: Illegal search and seizure

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

Average Joe SCOTUS: Mitchell v. Wisconsin

Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Facts of the case

So this drunkard Mitchell was being a total piece of shit, driving under the influence. In Wisconsin, the legal limit is 0.08% blood alcohol level. This motherfucker was 0.222, nearly four times above the legal limit.

This motherfucker was so drunk in fact, he passed out in the squad car, so the cops had to take his dumb ass to the hospital instead of jail.

At the hospital, he passed out again, so the cops had the hospital take a blood test to determine how drunk this motherfucker was. The astute of you will say, “Hey, that’s a non-consensual search without a warrant.” You’d be right. But Wisconsin has a law that says if you obtain a driver’s license, you automatically agree to such a search.

Anyway, Mitchell thinks this is some bullshit end-run around the 4th amendment. So after trying his level best in Wisconsin court to get them to drop the results of this search, they were like “fuck you, you drunk motherfucker. We need to get your drunk ass off the streets.”

While SCOTUS acknowledges the exigent-circumstances rule allows for a blood test when someone is unconscious, it would have to be a situation where they needed to do so to prevent destruction of evidence, or to save a life. But in this case, the police did have time to get a warrant. So 5:4 decision for Mitchell.

While Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor dissented, they argued that the exigent circumstances rule shouldn’t apply to this bullshit rule in Wisconsin. That the state can’t create a law that basically exempts them from the limits in the Constitution. So they seemed to weirdly side with Mitchell, while still dissenting from the majority opinion which allows the rule, but requires a warrant be obtained in this case, since they had time to do so.

Hear oral arguments or read about the case here.


Justice Sotomayor: The Libertarian?

In December 2014, The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Heien v. North Carolina. You can click on the link to read the entirety of the case if interested, but I’ll give you fairly brief synopsis here.

In 2010, a man named Maynor Vasquez was pulled over by police for having one of his two brake lights inoperative. Police observed his friend, Nicholas Heien sleeping in the back seat of the car. Thinking this behavior seemed a little odd, police fairly asked if they could search the car, and were given permission to do so.

Official Portrait of United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Click for Biography
Official Portrait of United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Click for Biography

Upon the search, they discovered 54 grams of cocaine in the vehicle, then arrested and convicted Heien of two counts of trafficking, presumably due to the amount larger than one person’s normal usage.

Heien’s lawyer challenged the traffic stop as North Carolina law only requires you have a working brake light, not both of them. As such, council argued the police stopping Vasquez and Heien constituted an illegal stop, and the search was therefore the proverbial “fruit of the poisonous tree,” and should have been thrown out.

Eventually, certiorari was granted, and SCOTUS heard the case in 2014. The court ruled against Heien in an 8:1 decision—Sotomayor being the only dissenter.SCOTUS8-1

During oral arguments, Sotomayor asked the petitioner:

(You can click below for the entire oral arguments transcript)

“So how many citizens have been stopped for one brake light who are asked to have their car searched? And is that something that we as a society should be encouraging?”

It’s fairly common knowledge, that SCOTUS at that time was comprised of what most considered five right-leaning justices, and four left-leaning. Sotomayor being one of the left—as she was appointed by Obama.

The issue at hand was whether Heien’s Constitutional rights were violated by a search under the Fourth Amendment which reads:

“[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

While it is often believed that the left-leaning justices don’t often seem too concerned with the Constitution, if you listen to oral arguments long enough, you start to see both sides indeed heavily use the constitution for the basis of their arguments.

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia 1960-2016
Justice Antonin Scalia 1960-2016

What’s often the case however, is that some are absolutists, and use the constitution strictly as it’s written.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia was among the most supportive of this notion. In an interview he stated that, “The only good Constitution is a dead Constitution. The problem with a living Constitution in a word is that somebody has to decide how it grows and when it is that new rights are – you know — come forth. And that’s an enormous responsibility in a democracy to place upon nine lawyers, or even 30 lawyers.”

However, other justices try to interpret what was intended when the Constitution or its amendments were written, instead of interpreting it solely by its verbiage—referring to the Constitution as a living document. Most notably, former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote this piece explaining his ideals.

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist 1924-2005
United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist 1924-2005

This “Living Document” idea also means that they often try to modernize the Constitution in such a way as to essentially say, “If the framers knew what we know today, this is what they’d have written or done.”

Scalia (and I agree wholeheartedly) would argue that it is for congress to rewrite the Constitution through the amendment process, and that the “Living Constitution” concept is nothing less than legislating from the bench—blurring the lines of the separation of powers intended by creating the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branches.

But nonetheless, Justice Sotomayor’s lone dissent, was clearly the only decision made with the Constitution in mind as written, almost stunningly not echoed by the late Justice Scalia and other conservative justices.

The United States Constitution
The United States Constitution

In today’s highly politicized society, we often wish to assume that partisan’s, including justices, are always on the side of their party, but every once in a while, you will find an ally in the most unlikely places, and on this particular issue, the only ally to liberty was Justice Sotomayor, recognizing that you cannot allow police to search someone’s car under a false pretense, and then allow prosecution to proceed accordingly.

I’m often pretty outspoken in my disdain for any politician who is consistently on the wrong side of liberty, but I’ve always said I worship ideals, not people. I just give people credit where it’s due, and attack when I believe it’s warranted. On this day, Justice Sotomayor was right, and she should be commended for it.