Supreme Court

Sonia Sotomayor Questions Warrantless Gun Seizure in Big Fourth Amendment Case

“There was no immediate danger,” Sotomayor said, yet the police “decided on their own to go in and seize the gun.”


The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a case that asks whether the Fourth Amendment's usual warrant requirement should be waived when the police conduct a warrantless home search while carrying out a so-called "community caretaker" function, such as when the cops perform a "wellness check" on a potentially troubled or injured person. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the Court's biggest Fourth Amendment hawks, raised a few objections to giving the cops that much leeway to enter the home without a warrant.

The case is Caniglia v. Strom. In 2015, Rhode Island police paid a "well call" on 68-year-old Edward Caniglia after his wife reported to authorities that he might be suicidal. The couple had gotten into a fight the night before and she had left to sleep elsewhere. When she couldn't reach him the next morning, she called the cops. The officers who visited the house had Caniglia taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where he was examined by a nurse and a social worker and discharged the same day. In the meantime, the police entered Caniglia's home without a warrant and seized his handguns. The case centers on Caniglia's claim that the warrantless search and seizure violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled in the favor of the officers in 2020, holding that the "community caretaking" exception to the Fourth Amendment was sufficient to cover the matter at issue. The community caretaking doctrine, the 1st Circuit maintained, "is designed to give police elbow room to take appropriate action."

Sotomayor took issue with the lower court's judgment. "I am deeply concerned about the 1st Circuit's claim that there is no requirement that officers must select the least intrusive means of fulfilling community caretaking responsibilities," she told Marc Desisto, the attorney representing the Rhode Island officers and their superiors. For example, "why couldn't they ask the wife" for permission before entering the house? Why didn't the officers speak to a social worker or a psychiatrist? "How do we limit [the police] from substituting their own" judgment in such matters? Sotomayor demanded. "In this situation, there was no immediate danger," she said, yet the police "decided on their own to go in and seize the gun."

Sotomayor returned to those concerns later during an exchange with Morgan Ratner, an assistant to the U.S. solicitor general. "I don't have a problem with them having removed this gentleman and taken him to the hospital," Sotomayor said. That's a valid seizure under Fourth Amendment case law "because they had reason to believe that he was threatening suicide." Taking someone like Caniglia for a "psychiatric examination is very much an exigent circumstance."

The problem "is the next step" the officers took, Sotomayor maintained, "which is going into the home without attempt to secure consent from the wife and seizing the gun and then keeping it indefinitely until a lawsuit is filed."

"The wife tried to get [the gun] back," Sotomayor noted. "He tried to get it back. Weeks and weeks went by. When we permit police to search and seize without some standard, we run the risk of situations like this one repeating themselves."

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  1. “How do we limit [the police] from substituting their own” judgment in such matters? Sotomayor demanded.

    “With all due respect, Madame Justice, they’re not called First Responders for nothing.”

    1. Her hatred of the police briefly expired her hatred of the second amendment.

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    2. Except that was their third response, and they lied about it.

      With all due respect, Random Commenter, the Constitution protects us from the government, not the other way around.

      1. Lizzie and Bernie should be sent to an insane asylum, as nothing of what either one says makes sense.

    3. Going back when he was out of the house was not a “first response.” Suppose I collapsed and a drug overdose was suspected. Would the community caretaker provision allow them to search my house for drugs without a warrant after I’d been taken to the hospital?

      1. Possibly, if the only goal were to identify what you’d OD’d on.

    4. Is no one going to mention “red flag “laws?
      The wife.and in some states the police, Kim filiform with the courts and the police can burst into your house and sees all your guns with no evidence whatsoever except the single complaint.
      You get a hearing months later and you have to prove that you’re not a danger.
      Good luck proving a negative

      1. My gunz r camelflogged so police no can seez them!

      2. You know why courts now love to make people in this situation prove a negative? Because in another arena, sex offender involuntary commitment laws (civil commitment, which holds them indefinitely AFTER they served out their adjudged prison term) require the one convicted of the sexual crime to prove he or she is NOT a danger to the community. In stead of the state having the burden to proffer proof-positive that such a person IS IN FACT a continued danger, the burden is shifted to the convicted person to prove they ARE NOT dangerous and everyone clapped with thunderous cheers for that one. Now it’s coming back to bite you in the butt in a different arena.

  2. Wow, great to see even the most left wing justice find gun confiscation offensive without due process!

    1. Sotomayor is wrong about a lot but she’s very strong on Fourth Amendment issues.

      1. Don’t each of us have the right to take our own lives? Why should suicide be illegal? Does the state own us, as slaves?

        1. They were just saving this guy from showing up as a gun murder statistic, because notably he would have been considered ‘murdered by a gun’ in nationwide reporting if he had pulled the trigger on himself.

          1. Including suicide in “killed by guns” statistics is stupid. Do they count people who jump of bridges as if they were pushed by someone else or call it vehicular homicide if someone deliberately crashes their car in order to kill themselves?

            1. Not until they set out to ban cars. Then they will.

        2. Sure, if you’re in your right mind and making an informed decision. I don’t think the police should have an absolute right to stop someone from committing suicide, but if your own mind is the enemy (and the wife, who likely has the best perspective on this situation, clearly thought something was wrong), perhaps they should serve a protective role at times.

        3. There’s the rub, in no US state is suicide illegal. What they do is assume that you must have some mental problem to desire to end your life and thus write laws protecting you from such an adverse mental state. There are, of course, conditions where ending your life is a perfectly reasonable decision but there are seldom carve outs for it in the mental health code.

      2. Kudos where kudos are due.

    2. she has shown herself to be a fighter for the 4th; the others, not so much

  3. The “community caretaker exception”? Where the fuck did that come from? How many fucking exceptions are there to the 4th now–I’ve lost count?

    1. It directly follows the part about asset forfeiture – – – – – – – –

    2. Just wait until we get some video of SWAT breaking a door down and shooting a dog whole shouting, “Police! Community Caretaking! Do you need assistance?!?”

      1. And then stealing the car to prevent drunk driving, and the booze, and the guns, and the cash so you can’t buy more…

        1. Don’t forget stealing the belts, shoelaces, curtains and bedsheets. The person might try hanging themselves.

    3. Yeah, I looked high and low for that one, can’t find it anywhere here:

      “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.”

      Unless The Supremes file it under “reasonable.”

      1. The “Rational Basis” test is a judicial joke. Rational Basis the the absolute lowest level of scrutiny that can possibly be applied. As long as legislators were not foaming at the mouth, baying at the moon, or speaking in tongues when they passed the law, it’s presumed “reasonable” and therefore constitutional.

    4. James Madison did a whole bit on it, in invisible ink, on the back of the Constitution – the real copy, the one stored in the mason jar under Aaron Burr’s outhouse

  4. So the wife said he may commit suicide and therefore the state can take him away. did he actually say that to anyone at any time. its not clear in this article maybe he did or didn’t. that is another troubling issue with this case

    1. #believeallwomen

      (except those who accuse democrats)

    2. There was a report in another article where he allegedly told the police (the next morning) that yes, he’d entertained potentially suicidal thoughts. So, yeah, the police probably had justification to take him in for a psych eval – especially if, as the other article implied, he consented to it.

      1. Honest question – is there anyone who hasnt entertained those thoughts at least once in thei life?

  5. As I mentioned in the other article on this topic.

    See, there are a lot of problems with this case.

    First, the guy brought out his unloaded gun when in the middle of a heated argument with his wife, and this scared her enough that she stayed at a motel that night instead of remaining in the house with her angry husband. That right there is a big problem. Who does that? Who thinks it’s appropriate to bring out an unloaded gun as a not-so-subtle threat involving your own wife in the middle of an argument? If he hadn’t behaved in such an irresponsible way, none of the following events would have been triggered.

    Second, the wife calls the cops to check on her husband after he won’t answer her calls. Why call the cops? Because they are, OF COURSE, society’s 24/7 all-purpose problem solvers, in the minds of most people it seems. Whenever there is any problem, call the cops! This is another problem with using law enforcement in this manner. They aren’t supposed to be the ones to solve every problem. Perhaps if there were other resources or institutions that people would be more inclined to call in order to “check up” on their loved ones, not necessarily wanting to put them in jail, but just to see if they are all right, and that some of the money that currently goes to law enforcement for this purpose might be better spent going to these other agencies instead. Calling this idea “defund the police” was entirely stupid, but that is the idea and it is worth considering further, so that events like this don’t happen.

    Third, the cops outright lied about telling the wife that the husband consented to having the guns confiscated. That should be punishable in and of itself.

    Fourth, the “community caretaker” exception to the Fourth Amendment sure smells like bullshit, but the important point here is that this exception is actually a thing because the “community caretakers” are the same as the COPS THEMSELVES. If the “community caretaker” wasn’t the cops, then there would be far fewer Fourth Amendment implications, because the people checking up on individuals in distress wouldn’t be the same people charged with throwing you in jail for committing crimes, and so therefore needing warrants before committing searches. Separate law enforcement from “community caretaking” and this problem largely goes away.

    Fifth, none of this is about some general right for cops to take away everybody’s guns for no reason at all. The Forbes headline is awful, and as usual, Team Red is utterly catastrophizing this case in order to not just disagree, but to condemn as evil their opponents.

    1. Bitch you ran when asked if your contention that easy access to rights like voting also includes easy access to guns, so you can fuck right off.

      1. And die. He can die too. Don’t leave that option out.

    2. Regarding your first point, I read in another article that he had brought the gun out and put it on the table, and told her to go ahead and shoot him with it.

      Not that it makes it any smarter of a move, but it was not to threaten her, rather it served as the basis for her concerns over him killing himself

      1. There’s no point in engaging here.

        Chemjeff is like the prosecutor in the Bill Burr bit

        “No. Stop. You are being bad.”


      2. Not that it makes it any smarter of a move, but it was not to threaten her, rather it served as the basis for her concerns over him killing himself

        I’m no psychologist or combat expert but it seems to me that outside a situation where they’re about to turn into a zombie or the vampires are about to bust through the door, someone handing you a gun and asking you to shoot them and you leaving the gun on the table makes you part of the problem.

    3. “Fifth, none of this is about some general right for cops to take away everybody’s guns for no reason at all.”

      Not intentionally, but it sure as heck opens up a huge loophole for it.

      1. Except Chemjeff is ignoring that if cops are allowed to simply assert ‘mental health’ then, yes, it is setting up a general *privilege* (because the state doesn’t have rights) for cops to take everybody’s guns away.

        1. kinda like all the cops that say ‘i smell weed’ during a traffic stop so they can search your car

    4. And if they had entered the house without a warrant and found $20K in cash, and seized it? Or some recreational marijuana in a non-enlighted state and charged the wife and husband with possession?

      It’s not about the guns, per se, it’s about the idea that the cops, absent any ongoing threat–indeed, after the man was already gone for the psych eval–took it upon themselves to enter the house and search it without a warrant or permission.

      Any “Yeah…but…” at this point is just excusing that behavior and clear violation of 4th.

    5. “This is another problem with using law enforcement in this manner. They aren’t supposed to be the ones to solve every problem. Perhaps if there were other resources or institutions that people would be more inclined to call in order to “check up” on their loved ones, not necessarily wanting to put them in jail, but just to see if they are all right, and that some of the money that currently goes to law enforcement for this purpose might be better spent going to these other agencies instead. Calling this idea “defund the police” was entirely stupid, but that is the idea and it is worth considering further, so that events like this don’t happen.”
      Here in Illinois we have an outfit called DCFS. Their job is to make sure nobody abuses their kids. The idea is that cops are ill prepared to deal with abusive families so will just let social workers do it. What could go wrong? I’ve yet to meet a parent who has not at some point been subjected to interrogation by a doctor or teacher suspecting some kind of abuse because of some ordinary childhood injury. You can read hundreds of stories in Reason archives about “other resources or institutions” turning peoples lives into a living hell. And unlike a typical interaction with the cops that lets you post bail and get a free public defender, DCFS will steal your kids and leave you with almost no due process at all. A degree in social work does not make people less evil than the average cop. I’d rather take my chances with a cop than these goons.

      1. Point taken, but false dichotomy. In either case you have the state wielding a violent monopoly for ‘care-taking.’ Not sure how to do ‘wellness’ as it pertains to firearms better, as in a private market we would have thousands of decisions and innovations evolving an ideal solution…but I’ll take a stab at describing some mechanism that could work better.

        There could be an insurance clause where any individual considered to be a substantial risk to themselves or their household could be subject to a private wellness check and wellness services. Violation could result in fees or an increase in premiums. This clause could certainly include provisions for family members and spouses to have some reporting power. Third parties may be able to file claims through the same mechanism. Substantial evidence of risk could be sufficient to file a police report and get a warrant.

        Ideally risks would be well categorized before these mechanisms are implemented – that would require actuarial work involving medical / mental records, criminal records, past insurance claims, property ownership (particularly weapons in the house), and crimenogenic data regarding these factors. My suspicion is that if guns were included as an insurance consideration, they would be negligible for most healthy people. We see this in gun owner and carry insurance currently – generally premiums are less than $100. For some people the expense may be high because their risk has been evaluated to be higher, and in this case we now have a disincentive for gun ownership and a pool of money for restoring damages. In order for any of this to work there would have to be strong protections against government accessing private insurance data. In a society with a large state we would probably see this become a defacto registry (as evidenced by current state data collection about…well…everything). We would also need ACTUAL risk based healthcare, which means that health insurance must function as actual insurance rather than as a subscription like we have now.

        These items in addition to various private support services like we see now. In the event of actual property crime there is a stronger case for policing and intervention. This applies to both the child abuse and the gun ‘wellness.’ Of course, if they were actually doing the work to show evidence of property crime and file a warrant then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. As per usual the problem is multifaceted and involves a stack of failures. When problems like this come to public attention they seem to already be decades deep.

    6. I’ll jump in the fray here and say that while I disagree with you from time to time, this seems like a pretty good take.

      Community care-taking should not be a policing function, and that is where the root of the 4A problems lies. Sure, if care-taking is their function then the next best answer is to attempt to establish limits and processes for delivering that service with minimal rights disruption…but it should be self evident from that statement that there is no possibility of fully aligning a ‘care-taker’ exemption with a strong 4A.

      Regardless, I don’t have much hope for a solution to the core problem or for a reasonably effective band-aid.

  6. I think the question of whether or not cops should be able to seize your guns without a warrant should be strictly decided on the issue of how much the gun can be sold on the street for.

  7. Don’t worry sleepy Joe Biden will talk about this at his press conference and he has all the solutions to end gun violence forever.

    1. Right after he fixes the Guadalupean immigrant problem.

  8. There is so much wrong going on with this.

    The couple obviously have problems in their relationship. Without more details I won’t speculate on the fault being with the husband, wife, or both. What bothers me is LEOs being put in the position of dealing with what seems to be a Dear Abby situation. Why would anyone think calling the cops is the right answer. I do understand that if there is real domestic abuse, especially if it involves physical abuse LEOs may be needed but in this case as Sotomayor notes ‘there was no immediate danger’. The wife was safe and the husband was getting mental health evaluation/care.

    While this case seems clear cut to me it also high lights a bigger issue. How to deal with situations like this that really don’t require a LEO but more of a social worker. I am not sure defunding the police and using the money for mental health guys to respond since there seems to be a need for more police, not less. Not to mention there also seems to be a problem funding both police and alternatives needed.

    1. As a strictly practical matter someone has to be able to make wellness calls. It really does happen that people die inside of locked buildings (sometimes naturally, sometimes via accident, sometimes via suicide). Someone has to be legally empowered to check on them and break down the door if necessary because society can’t just have bodies rotting inside of buildings. However, once it has been established that the person in question is alive and not in immediate distress that should be the end of it.

      1. No, they really don’t have to be able to do so.

        Wellness calls are an infringement – you don’t get to just say ‘I’m fine, please go away’ after all. You *will* submit to whoever is calling until and only until they are satisfied.

        1. Not by the State. Landlords are generally entitled to kick their own door down and I suspect the number of neighbors, friends, and family who’ve kicked a door down to rescue someone and then been charged with B&E is miniscule. Especially relative to the number of rotting bodies the current “Wellness Call Division” that we do have finds behind locked doors.

          It only takes minutes to drown in a small pool of water. Seconds to die of a heart attack or stroke. How often should these wellness calls be performed? Maybe just tag everyone with fitbits instead, like pets or livestock. You know, for the sake of freedom.

        2. Oh, come on. People really do just suddenly drop out of communication, and somebody has to go by and knock on the door.

          If they respond and say they’re fine, that SHOULD be the end of it.

          But if they don’t? Yeah, somebody needs to be authorized to break in, and check that they’re not dead, or had a stroke and are lying there paralyzed, slowly starving to death.

          Sure, in theory you could leave them be until the rent was overdue, or whatever, but that’s not a common view in society.

          1. I had an uncle who was dead in his apartment for over a week. It was a post office worker who noticed he hadn’t taken his mail from the box for several days that provided the tip to the building manager. The building manager ultimately called police after checking and discovering the body.

            I often wonder if the postal worker will do the same to me since I only collect the mail maybe once a week unless something interesting shows up in my ‘informed delivery’ email. It’s usually just full of junk anyway that never gets past the first waste basket I come across.

  9. I would love to read these articles aloud and record myself, sell it back to Reason.
    I’m a young person, and us young people just don’t have the attention span or perceived time to read several paragraphs and scroll past ads.
    Your Podcast Platform is bringing massive amounts of people my age into the liberty movement, but a lot of your content is being ignored by my demographic just because we don’t want to read.

    1. Nobody is stopping you from recording.

      And if young people do not have the attention span to read a single-page article then we’re doomed anyway.

      1. Yeah, really grokking liberty is going to require you to read more than a page.

        Especially in an age where one page says things like “Shall not be infringed” and “Congress shall make no law” and places like Reason run several whole podcasts explaining how the law Congress passed is the better iteration of “Congress shall make no law” for the current technology or modern age.

    2. Seriously? Can’t read a few paragraphs? A single column in a magazine? You lazy fucks.

      1. Bet they can stream a whole season of a show in one sitting though. Lack attention span…

        1. Lack of giving a care about the principles upon which this nation was founded.

    3. If you see ads online, you’re incompetent.

  10. How to “kill” your husband:
    1) Get in an argument. (Optional)
    2) Leave the area.
    3) Call the police and say he has a gun, threatened you and is suicidal.
    4) Cross your fingers and wait.
    5) If he survives, return to step 1

    1. Getting into an argument isn’t even necessary.

      1. Yes. It’s…”optional”.

  11. Yep. It’s optional. But if she does get him good and steamed up it will help her chances.

  12. Now do New Orleans after Katrina.

  13. 50 Most Popular Women In The World are also the most influnentional women in the world

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