FPC and FPF file Amicus Brief Arguing that the Community Caretaking Exception Should Not Apply to the Home

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 15, 2021) — Today, Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) and Firearms Policy Foundation (FPF) announced the filing of an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in the case of Caniglia v. Strom, a case about whether a “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home. The brief is available at FPCLegal.org.

In Cady v. Dombrowski (1973), the Supreme Court held that police officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment by searching, without a warrant, the trunk of a car they had towed after an accident, because it was part of an officer’s “community caretaking functions.” A warrantless search of an automobile could thus be constitutional, even though it is not on the premises nor in the custody of its owner. But in this case, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement could also apply to home searches. 

During an argument with his wife of 27 years, Mr. Caniglia retrieved an unloaded gun and asked “why don’t you just shoot me and get me out of my misery?” Eventually, his wife decided to stay at a hotel. The next morning, Mrs. Caniglia called her husband but he missed the call. Concerned, she called the police and told them about their argument the night before. Mr. Caniglia was then taken for a psychiatric evaluation, and was discharged on the spot. But in the meantime, the officers entered the Caniglia home without a warrant and seized Mr. Caniglia’s firearmsclaiming that it was part of their community caretaking responsibilities. 

FPC and FPF, along with the Independence Institute, filed a brief supporting Mr. Caniglia. The brief emphasizes the historical significance of the sanctity of the home to argue that police should not be able to conduct warrantless community caretaking searches of the home. Starting with Cicero’s philosophy and Ancient Rome, then moving on to fifteenth century England through colonial America, and ultimately to the debates over the ratification of the Constitution, the brief illustrates that the home has been considered inviolable for two millennia. Specifically, in colonial America, abusive home searches were met with great hostility and violenceso much so, that by the time of the American Revolution, even lawful home searches could rarely be conducted. The brief points out that under the First Circuit’s standard for community caretaking searches, many of the searches the founders so vehemently opposed would be permitted.

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The brief was authored by FPC’s Director of Research, Joseph Greenlee, along with David Kopel of the Independence Institute, and Lauren McLane and George Mocsary of the University of Wyoming Law School. 

“Even in less free societies, the home has always been understood as essential to liberty,” said FPC’s Joseph Greenlee. “America’s founders certainly understood that as well, so they created a zone of safety and security for the home through the first five amendments in the Bill of Rights. We’re grateful to be able to provide the Court with a great deal of history highlighting just how important the sanctity of the home was to the founders.”

Firearms Policy Coalition (www.firearmspolicy.org) is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization. FPC’s mission is to protect and defend constitutional rights—especially the right to keep and bear arms—advance individual liberty, and restore freedom through litigation and legal action, legislative and regulatory action, education, outreach, grassroots activism, and other programs. FPC Law is the nation’s largest public interest legal team focused on Second Amendment and adjacent fundamental rights including freedom of speech and due process, conducting litigation, research, scholarly publications, and amicus briefing, among other efforts.

Firearms Policy Foundation (www.firearmsfoundation.org) is a grassroots 501(c)3 nonprofit public benefit organization. FPF’s mission is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the People’s rights, privileges, and immunities deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition—especially the inalienable, fundamental, and individual right to keep and bear arms.

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