Supreme Courtroom Wonders If Police Can Come Residence With out A Warrant To Save A Life: NPR
The US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case examining whether the police could enter a person’s home and confiscate weapons without a warrant in order to protect the homeowner from possible harm. Patrick Semansky / AP Hide caption
Patrick Semansky / AP
Patrick Semansky / AP
What kind of emergency allows the police to enter your home without an arrest warrant? That was the question before the US Supreme Court on Wednesday. The court’s imagination seemed endless as the judges came up with hypotheses that saved everything from crying babies to cats in a tree to a Van Gogh painting filled with water.
The actual case before the court involved a heated argument between a long-married couple, Edward and Kim Caniglia. He took out a gun and told her to shoot him to get him out of his “misery”. Then, after he left the house angrily, she hid the gun and spent the night in a motel. The next morning, unable to reach her husband, she asked the police to accompany her home because she feared he might have injured himself.
The police found the husband on the porch and sent him for a psychological examination. Later that day, the doctors concluded that he was not a threat to himself or others and released him. In the meantime, the police had confiscated his weapons and ammunition. So he sued for alleging an illegal seizure and search of his home.
The lower courts decided that the police may enter the house and under the so-called exception of the community maintenance from the arrest warrant obligation of the constitution.
Attorney Shay Dvoretzky, who represented Edward Caniglia, said such an exception would “exempt” the fourth amendment’s warrant protection.
Chief Justice John Roberts questioned the limits of Dvoretzky’s reasoning. Suppose an elderly neighbor doesn’t show up for a scheduled weekly dinner, he said. She’s never late, she doesn’t answer the phone, and her back door is open, so the neighbors call the police. “Would that be enough” for the police to enter the house without an arrest warrant to check out the missing neighbor?
“No,” replied Dvoretzky, “I think that alone would not be enough.”
Roberts followed with references to popular television shows. Would the situation be different if the cop were the small town “Andy from Mayberry” versus “Kojak” from the big city?
“No,” replied lawyer Dvoretzky. The police can only step in if there is a real emergency at that moment.
Judge Stephen Breyer noted that while the court has allowed the police to enter a house in “urgent circumstances” without an arrest warrant, those situations are very limited and include “dozens and dozen of” real world situations like “a baby cried for five hours, and nobody seems to be around. “
Dvoretzky claimed that unlawful entry could only take place in a real emergency, but his definition was so narrow that it did not seem to please many of the judges.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh noted that the statistics of falls and suicides in residential areas were “shocking”.
“Every day there is an average of 65 gun suicides in the United States,” he said, noting that “cops are vital to suicide prevention … like this case.”
He appeared to disagree with Justice Clarence Thomas and his Trump colleague Neil Gorsuch, who apparently believed that such entry would require an arrest warrant, even though entry does not constitute evidence of a crime.
The Supreme Court has never specifically recognized that the police may enter the house without an arrest warrant as part of their “community welfare”.
There are some longstanding “urgent” warranty exemptions, such as pursuing a suspect. However, these are cases where allegations of criminal behavior are made. And the case in court on Monday did not. Even so, attorney Marc DeSisto, who represented the Cranston, RI, police force fought from the start.
Chief Justice Roberts hypothesized this: Let’s say a neighbor calls the police about a cat stuck in a tree on the Johnsons property, and the Johnsons are gone. Can the police enter their locked fence around the yard to bring the cat down? “Does the church take care of it?” Asked Roberts.
Yes, replied DeSisto. “For me, climbing a tree and having a cat doesn’t compromise privacy rights.”
Justice Samuel Alito didn’t buy that broad argument and asked, “Can we narrow it down?” A life-threatening injury? However, DeSisto insisted that regardless of whether it is a tree cat or a threatened suicide, the standard for allowing intervention without a warrant is the same.
Justice Elena Kagan sounded skeptical, suggesting that DeSisto’s definition of the standard for care in the community “covers a lot”. Justice Sonia Sotomayor interfered and asked what the limits are.
To save the case for the police, US Assistant Attorney General Morgan Ratner stated, “The key principle is, when someone is exposed to serious harm and it is appropriate for officials to intervene now, that is enough. Officials need not show that the damage is only moments away. “
But Chief Justice Roberts expressed anger about the safety of his hypothetical cat. “Ms. Ratner, how do you feel about the cat?”
Ratner said the government only cares about one thing: whether there is potential for serious harm to people.
She left the cat on the tree.