EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, May 17, 2021

Supreme Court Rules That the Community Caretaking Exception Does Not Apply to Warrantless Home Entries

Today, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Caniglia v. Strom. It was a unanimous opinion, with the Court concluding that the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement does not apply to warrantless home entries. Here was the key portion of the Court's opinion:

True, Cady also involved a warrantless search for a firearm. But the location of that search was an impounded vehicle—not a home—“‘a constitutional difference’” that the opinion repeatedly stressed. 413 U. S., at 439; see also id., at 440–442. In fact, Cady expressly contrasted its treatment of a vehicle already under police control with a search of a car “parked adjacent to the dwelling place of the owner.” Id., at 446–448 (citing Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U. S. 443 (1971)).

Cady’s unmistakable distinction between vehicles and homes also places into proper context its reference to “community caretaking.” This quote comes from a portion of the opinion explaining that the “frequency with which . . . vehicle[s] can become disabled or involved in . . . accident[s] on public highways” often requires police to perform noncriminal “community caretaking functions,” such as providing aid to motorists. 413 U. S., at 441. But, this recognition that police officers perform many civic tasks in modern society was just that—a recognition that these tasks exist, and not an open-ended license to perform them anywhere.

I wrote the law professor amici curie brief in the case and made a similar argument:

The Coolidge Court then found that the search was unconstitutional because, inter alia, the car “was regularly parked in the driveway of [Coolidge’s] house” and there was “no suggestion that, on the night in question, the car was being used for any illegal purpose.” Id. at 460.

Subsequently in Cady, 413 U.S. at 446-47, this Court explicitly distinguished Coolidge to create the community caretaking doctrine. In Cady, police officers towed a Ford Thunderbird that was disabled in a car accident, and a warrantless search of the vehicle uncovered bloodied items. Id. at 436-38. In creating the community caretaking doctrine, the Cady Court distinguished Coolidge because “[t]he Thunderbird was not parked adjacent to the dwelling place of the owner as in Coolidge..., nor simply momentarily unoccupied on a street.” Id. at 446-47. Rather, because the Thunderbird was “was neither in the custody nor on the premises of its owner,” there was an “immediate and constitutionally reasonable...concern for the safety of the general public who might be endangered if an intruder removed a revolver from the trunk of the vehicle.” Id. at 447-48. 



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