Supreme Court Unanimously Strikes Down Gun Confiscation Doctrine in Rhode Island Case

The ruling held that police cannot seize a person’s firearms without a warrant even if they are acting in a “community caretaker function.” (Photo: St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office/public domain)

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a resounding victory this week for gun rights advocates by striking down a lower court decision that allowed police in Rhode Island to seize a man’s firearms without a warrant or any other court order.

“The Supreme Court today smacked down the hopes of gun grabbers across the nation. The Michael Bloombergs of the world would have loved to see the Supreme Court grant police the authority to confiscate firearms without a warrant,” said Erich Pratt, Senior Vice President of Gun Owners of America (GOA). “But the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Fourth Amendment protections in the Bill of Rights protect gun owners from such invasions into their homes.”

In its unanimous ruling, the Court determined that a doctrine known as the “community caretaker function” does not allow law enforcement to enter a residence and seize property without a warrant. The doctrine was instituted by the U.S. Supreme Court as an exception to the Fourth Amendment, but the Court ruled in this case that it only applies to motor vehicles or in order to render aid.

The case stemmed from an incident in which a man named Edward Caniglia put a handgun on a table and told his wife to “shoot [him] now and get it over with.” The woman declined and spent the night at a hotel. The next morning, police officers accompanied the woman to her home and found Caniglia on his porch.

SEE ALSO: BREAKING: Supreme Court Takes First 2A Case in a Decade

Caniglia confirmed that he had put the handgun on the table but denied he was suicidal. He eventually submitted to be taken to a hospital for a psychological evaluation but only after police allegedly promised not to take his firearms. After he entered the ambulance, officers entered his home, accompanied by Caniglia’s wife, and seized his firearms.

Caniglia sued, but the First Circuit Court upheld the seizure using a doctrine called “community caretaking.” The First Circuit cherry picked this idea from a 1973 case called Cady v. Dombrowski, in which the Supreme Court allowed police officers to search an impounded vehicle without a warrant because it involved the completion of a non-criminal law-enforcement duty.

However, writing for the unanimous court, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas pointed out that Cady explicitly distinguished between homes and motor vehicles.

SEE ALSO: Vermont Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Standard Capacity Magazines

“What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes. Cady acknowledged as much, and this Court has repeatedly ‘declined to expand the scope of . . . exceptions to the warrant requirement to permit warrantless entry into the home,’” Thomas said. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees “the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.”

All the justices voted to strike down the lower court ruling, but Justice Samuel Alito, a George W. Bush appointee, clarified in a concurring opinion that the ruling does not speak to the legality of red flag laws. “Provisions of red flag laws may be challenged under the Fourth Amendment, and those cases may come before us. Our decision today does not address those issues,” he said.

***Buy and Sell on GunsAmerica! All Local Sales are FREE!***

About the author: Jordan Michaels has been reviewing firearm-related products for over four years and enjoying them for much longer. With family in Canada, he’s seen first hand how quickly the right to self-defense can be stripped from law-abiding citizens. He escaped that statist paradise at a young age, married a sixth-generation Texan, and currently lives in Waco. Follow him on Instagram @bornforgoodluck and email him at jordan@gunsamerica.com.

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • David May 21, 2021, 10:29 am

    Ahhh NY, that says it all. With an imcompetent, senior murdering clown like cuomo what do you expect?! The police should be defunded if they’re going to allow rioters to burn, loot, or murder, but take citizens guns! Lying tyrants.

    • J Franks May 21, 2021, 2:39 pm

      While I agree that NY (most of the east coast really) is chock full of smooth brained, window licking, glue eaters this took place in Rhode Island. I’m fairly certain that Rhode Island isn’t a part of Rhode Island.

  • Ronnie Lott May 21, 2021, 8:03 am

    So…a “man” while arguing with his wife pulls out his pistol (not good for ANY reason in that scenario and an indication he is NOT a responsible owner) she flees for her safety and returns with police the next day…they take his pistol rightfully because again if nothing else he is a threat to HER safety and this author is happy he got his gun back??? I’m all for fun ownership but some people are not responsible enough and in fact SHOULD have their’s taken…this woman’s safety was at risk…cmon people

    • Jerry Jones May 21, 2021, 8:43 am

      You Failed miserably at reading comprehension….. “Edward Caniglia put a handgun on a table and told his wife to “shoot [him] now and get it over with.”

      Enlighten Us all, as to how that endangers the Wife?

    • Dale Fairbanks May 21, 2021, 9:16 am

      STICK TO THE FACTS OF THE CASE HERE…

      There are a number of crimes this man could have been charged with. Why wasn’t he? His firearm/gun could have been taken as evidence of those crimes. The problem arises when the Police want ALL of his firearms. If you want to isolate this incident to just those facts, it would be clear and easy. What you failed to grasp is the Police took all of his guns and did not charge him with any crime at all.

      Under the law the Police and the Prosecutors office are under an obligation to charge a case of DV if his Wife had been threatened with the handgun. The Police and the DA office did not see the crime because his Wife did not claim it was a threat to her. Stay with the facts.

      Unlawful display of a firearm? Reckless Endangerment? When the Police are so hot to skip over the 4th amendment they simply forget the slow game. and they did here. A conviction for any of the offences he could have been charged with would have forced him to voluntarily surrender his weapons until he had a clear head and a Doctors note… We need thinking Police not thugs to help in these situations. Until we do…

    • BR549 May 21, 2021, 9:23 am

      Had you ever lived in Rhode Island or were Italian, you might have easily picked up on the sarcasm in his gesture. The FACT is that the gun he put on the table was unloaded.

      In Rhode Island, a SHALL ISSUE, state, you can no longer submit to your local police chief for a CC permit; instead, because of all the corruption in that liberal cesspool, you have to show a specific need or write someone in high places a large enough check to get the wheels of progress moving. For decades, all requests have had to go through the state Attorney General’s office, another facet of corrupt liberalism.

      The Family Court system is just as bad, since any histrionic mother who knows how to play drama queen and massage the judge (male or female) can easily wind up with everything and leaving the male financially emasculated even when she was the one with the wandering eye.

      So, I understand the level of his sarcasm and his telling her to just shoot him now and get it over with. Have you tried rationalizing with a woman, lately, who believes that she can understand life by listening to The View and John Oliver?

    • JOLOCI May 21, 2021, 10:41 am

      I’m a big fan of fun ownership too. I want to own all the fun and don’t want the govt infringing on my ownership of fun!

      The rest of your comment is bs. You look at gun ownership as a privilege that can be revoked at the will of the govt. it’s actually a God given right no one can take from you.

      • Ronnie Lott May 21, 2021, 1:05 pm

        God has nothing to do with gun ownership and you can’t find a scripture that says thou shalt own a gun…in fact the teachings of Christ specifically direct against avoiding violent resolution…what you and everyone else here completely miss is how idiots like this guy make it hard for the rest of us…it is idiotic and irresponsible to brandish a firearm during a domestic dispute unless you feel your life is in danger and you are ready to discharge it for the preservation of your life…period…if you or anyone else can’t wrap your heads around that then you only serve to help those who want to take our weapons…

    • oldfuzz695 May 21, 2021, 11:46 am

      Apparently, you assume there are no lying wives or husbands in this world. How would you feel if someone lied to you and they confiscate your property? I don’t know how many domestic calls I have answered when the radio operator says, “Spouse has a gun”., even though the weapon is locked away in a hunting case.

    • oldfuzz695 May 24, 2021, 8:22 am

      So if a person accuses you of the same thing, with no witnesses or other support of facts, the cops should come and take your gun without due process?

    • Jrp July 30, 2021, 6:24 am

      A guy pulls out his hammer, rock, baseball bat even a dining room chair. People kill people period. Not inanimate objects. Taking the gun stops nothing. He could just beat her to death with his bare hands or smother her with a pillow. Do they need a warrant to confiscate the pillow before something bad happens. People are innocent until they actually commit a crime. I know. That pesky constitution. Communist.

  • Elmer Fudd May 21, 2021, 7:40 am

    How do we resist Randy? How do I prepare for when the the police kick down my door at 3AM, shoot my dog and then point a rifle at my screaming wife while I sit there in my underwear?

    Will your local law enforcement obey unconstitutional orders to protect their pensions?

    • J Franks May 21, 2021, 3:03 pm

      I’m guessing that you meant to reply to the randy bauer comment that was at the time of ny posting this below yours.

      To answer your question you have two general paths for resistance. Path one is political and social activism/engagement. This involves getting involved in political campaigns, protests and rallys, writing actual letter sent through the postal service, etc. It also means getting people into gun ownership and generally being a good steward for gun ownership. This path is becoming less effective.

      Path two is active, violent resistance. There are more gun owners than politicians and police and they know this. They’re desperate to avoid this path becoming an attractive option. If they take too large a bite of our rights at once there will be widespread violence and it’s very likely that the enforcement arm (police and military) will side with us. If we engage in violent resistance too soon we will play right into their hands.

      Sadly this country has and continues to march straight towards a second civil war. The political situation in this country has become too polarized. There’s too much focus on emotions and with us or against us thinking.

      If you think I’m a crackpot ignore me and continue to do whatever you’ve been doing. If you can see that I’m correct you need to begin to prepare for the coming storm. Purchase firearms second hand through private party sales. Keep them and the ammunition for them securely hidden. Train to use your weapons. Study guerilla warfare techniques. Study the police in your area. Learn the fastest and most clandestine routes through and around wherever you live. Be psychologically prepared for violence as best you can. Most importantly be patient. This house of cards we call a nation is starting to collapse.

  • randy bauer May 21, 2021, 6:32 am

    Perhaps it’s time to do a little more than wait for court decisions to MAYBE be in our favor. The constitution says we can resist tyranny, and this instance sound a lot like that. Resist, don’t knuckle under.

    • J Franks May 21, 2021, 3:06 pm

      The time for active, violent resistance is coming sadly. There’s still time for it to be avoided but both the left and right can’t see that they’re focused on the wrong things.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend