Constitutionality of Home Search in Question

On November 20, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of CANIGLIA, EDWARD A. vs. STROM, ROBERT F., ET AL. (Case Number 20 -157), granted the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, which is the procedure in which the Supreme Court is asked by a litigant who is challenging a case (akin to an “appeal”) to review the merits of a lower Court’s Decision.

The underlying case is worthy of note in that the litigant, who is entitled Petitioner, Edward Caniglia, sought to set aside the Decision of the First Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Caniglia v. Strom, 953 F.3d 112 (1st Cir. 2020), which Court held against him and in favor of law enforcement. The facts of the 2015 case dealt with Caniglia, who was 68 years old with no criminal history and no record of domestic violence; however, he got into an argument with his wife with whom he was married for 22 years and, when the argument escalated, he retrieved an unloaded gun from their residence, and said, “Why don’t you just shoot me and get me out of my misery.” However, the unloaded gun was laid on the table. As might be expected, his wife left their home [and went to a nearby motel]; the next day, she contacted the local police because she told them she was unable to reach her husband when she called.

When the police arrived to perform their “wellness check,” Caniglia told them he “couldn’t take it anymore,” but said “he would never commit suicide.” Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Caniglia entered the home. The officers claimed they had a concern and, therefore, a risk Caniglia would harm himself. After a discussion with he and his wife, Caniglia agreed to be evaluated; then, he was taken by the police to the hospital, where he was seen by a nurse and a social worker. However, Caniglia was discharged the same day, being billed about $1000 for the temporary health services. As part of the police contact, and allegedly having falsely representing to the police her husband had consented, Caniglia’s wife led them to the part of their home where they took possession of his other weapon and the particular gun Caniglia had previously laid on the table.

Thereafter, Caniglia filed a lawsuit in in the U.S. District Court, Caniglia v. Strom,  396 F. Supp. 3d 227 (D.R.I. 2019), in which he alleged the law enforcement officers violated his Constitutional guarantees under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. Essentially, he claimed the police violated the Second and Fourth Amendment, along with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. In a truly mixed and complex Decision, Caniglia lost on procedural grounds and without a trial on the merits; that Decision was appealed to the First Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which on March 13, 2020, affirmed the  U.S. District Court’s Decision. It is the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals that was then appealed by Caniglia’s attorneys who thereafter filed a Writ to the U.S. Supreme Court, as stated at the outset of this Blog.

Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, we are guaranteed “to be secure ….. against unreasonable searches and seizures,” unless there is a valid Search Warrant or probable cause.  The concept of probable cause has a long history and is one heavily litigated by criminal defense lawyers who uniformly claim it requires sufficient proof of a reasonable basis to believe a crime may have been committed or there is evidence of a crime present in the place to be searched. The police had asserted their entry and seizure of the two weapons was justified under their “community caretaking” functions.

Most importantly, the Courts have been deeply divided on the definition and what constitutes  the duties and responsibilities of law enforcement to preserve and protect community safety. The U.S. Supreme Court granted the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari because the “community caretaking” exception should be deemed an anomaly to, and a very narrow deviation from, the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, this concept needed to be clarified if law enforcement were to use it, without a warrant, to justify searches that otherwise might violate the sanctity of our homes and undermine the dignity and respect of human life. In granting the Petition, the U.S. Supreme Court stated, “it is the role of the courts—not the police—to decide whether and when an intrusion into the home is justified. ” The Court further elaborated by stating:

The expansion of an amorphous exception—which, according to the First Circuit, can cover teenage parties, wellness checks, and anything else an officer deems “reasonable” in the name of community care—into that most private of spaces authorizes exactly those intrusions the Founders   most feared. And the entrenched split of authority leaves officers without much-needed guidance about the scope of their authority—and citizens without much-needed confidence in the supposed sanctity of their homes” (emphasis added).

The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted this significant criminal case. The Court will eventually put the matter on their calendar to hear arguments and later issue a Decision.

Important Choices To Preserve Humanity

President Harry Truman, on April 11, 1952, signed into law a bill that proclaimed the National Day of Prayer. Thereafter in 1988, President Ronald Reagan amended the law designating the first Thursday of May each year as the National Day of Prayer. While it is not a public holiday, there are countless prayer gatherings across the United States, many of which are non-denominational.  As we all know, these are troubling times when we read about or view news accounts of horrific crimes and mass killings, hate mongers, widespread and highly polarized dissension, along with an increasing number of individuals who can be classified as morally bankrupt and/or lawless, lacking integrity, respect and appreciation of others. The new reality has brought forward the adage (click this link), “If we see something, say something.

Nonetheless, all of us need to underscore the world is a magnificent place and people are basically good, even though there are exceptions which are often characterized as the new norm. Aside from what solid values, positive attitudes as well as divergent ideas, opinions and religious beliefs can bring to humanity, we need to have healthy relationships and strong support systems. We can make important choices to preserve humanity in today’s world,  and make all of our lives better.

Let us start by smiling (click this link), as when it comes from the heart, it can be priceless.  And, if you are not used to or feel comfortable smiling, try to think of a good reason to do so in a genuine way. The social value of a smile is that it shows we are likeable, happy and content. A smile is our gift to others, but most importantly (click this link), smiles are infectious for those in our surrounding to feel important, and appreciated. In addition, smiling can improve our own mood and, therefore, increase our positive thoughts and feelings.

Taking this one step further, we have all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.” And, studies have shown (click this link to read) how laughter can be powerful, referencing among other consequences, happier individuals live longer. In contrast to a “toxic” life filled with, among other emotions,  stress from negativity, exposure to violence, and/or loneliness,  positive thinking can produce a healthier and happier life.

Rabbi Dorsch of the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego was interviewed by KGTV Channel 10 News on Sunday, April 28, 2019 in response to the horrific killing at a local synagogue was quoted saying (click this link), “We have to give one another hugs and say we are not going to let this destroy us.” There has been a great deal written, considered highly effective and adopted by therapists that hugs have a synergistic effect (the whole is greater than the parts, or 2+2 =5 or 6), including the famous author and psychotherapist Virginia Satir, who is is a pioneer in the messaging value of hugs in family therapy and quoted in “10 Reasons Why We Need at Least 8 Hugs a Day” (click this link).

In conclusion, all of us can provide to others, and realize for ourselves, happiness, along with innumerable social and health benefits from a smile; and smiling can turn into laughter, which in and of itself is worth celebrating. Let’s not be part of the problem, but part of the solution, as we take each step today and forever. We can indeed make important choices in today’s world to preserve humanity, one person and one day at a time.

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