In The News

In The News

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Supreme Court Reminds Us "There's No Place Like Home" When it Comes to the 4th Amendment

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Domestic Violence

It did not get a whole lot of attention or media coverage, but the United States Supreme Court issued a 4th Amendment opinion in the context of a civil lawsuit as opposed to a criminal case - which is where we typically see constitutional issues debated and decided by the Court.

In Caniglia v Strom, the Court refused to extend the "community caretaking" function that was recognized in Cady v Dombrowski in the context of a vehicle search when an officer encountered a disabled vehicle. The facts seemed to make this easy: Edward Caniglia sued a Rhode Island police department after officers seized guns and ammunition from his home. They deceived him to gain entry, because Mr. Caniglia's wife reported that she was concerned about his mental health following an argument the couple had the night before.

I asked Eric Schroeder, an associate attorney with a Masters Degree in Public administration and an LLM degree to give me his thoughts on the opinion:

"In reviewing the main opinion, the Court first wanted to establish a clear distinction in the privacy expectations in searching a person’s house versus a person’s car in an impound lot which was the situation presented in Cady. The Court recognized and continued to uphold that the privacy expectation is higher for a person’s dwelling and thus a police officer cannot simply search a person dwelling because there might be some vague community caretaking interest that could be furthered by doing so.

In reviewing the concurring opinions, the Justices were quick to note that some community caretaking interests could justify a search of a person’s dwelling. The two examples most cited by the Justices included welfare checks for elderly citizens and individuals who may be suicidal. As the justices noted, these scenarios also contain elements of the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement which would independently provide justification for a police officer to enter a residence and conduct a search to determine the safety of the resident.

The State in this case did not rely on this argument but instead tried to establish a broader “community care” exception. In reviewing the opinion, the Petitioner was standing on his front porch when police arrived. The officers could quickly determine Petitioner was not in danger and thus it was not necessary for them to search the house and confiscate Petitioner’s firearms."

For me - this gives us hope that the SCOTUS will protect the 4th Amendment privacy interest in the home in Lange v California, a case that could be issued as early as Monday, May 24th (see description elsewhere on this webpage).

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Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.