Supreme Court shuts down police attempts to search homes without a warrant

Before today, Justice Clarence Thomas hadn't asked a question from the Supreme Court bench since Feb. 22, 2006

The Supreme Court unanimously stopped an attempt by police to enter homes without a warrant, siding against the Biden administration.

The court found that police can not enter a home using the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions on government searches and seizures. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the court’s opinion, saying that police had violated the “very core of the Fourth Amendment.”

The case stems from a 2015 incident involving a married Rhode Island couple whose argument over suicide resulted in the police being dispatched to their home. The husband, Edward Caniglia, gave his wife, Kim, an unloaded gun and told her to kill him. She left the house and called the police instead to check on him.

Once officers arrived, they entered the house and confiscated Caniglia’s guns. He sued the police department for entering his home and confiscating his belongings without a warrant. A district court sided against him as well as an appeals court, extending the “community caretaking exception” for police to search cars without a warrant to homes as well.

Thomas argued that the lower courts erred in equating the privacy of a car to the privacy of a home. “What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes,” Justice Thomas wrote.

In a brief filed to the court, the Biden administrations Justice Department argued that the Fourth Amendment hinges on a question of “reasonableness.”

“The ultimate question, in this case, is therefore not whether the respondent officers’ actions fit within some narrow warrant exception, but instead whether those actions were reasonable,” the Justice Department wrote. “And under all of the circumstances here, they were.”

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts for further proceedings.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer penned a joint concurrence to the opinion, pointing out that “[t]he role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties,” and issuing a reminder that, “[a] warrant to enter a home is not required, we explained when there is a ‘need to assist persons who are seriously injured or threatened with such injury.’”