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Supreme Court Decision on Police Searches

Posted by Lynn Gorelick | Jun 23, 2021 | 0 Comments

Law enforcement officers often try to expand their search and seizure authority. When someone's rights have been violated, the victim may have to challenge the search in court, to hold the police accountable for their actions. A recent Supreme Court ruling found police went too far in searching a man's home without a warrant.

Unlawful Search and Seizure

After a fight between Edward Caniglia and his wife, his wife left to stay in a hotel. The next day, she couldn't get ahold of him and called the police to do a welfare check. Based on the information available, the police believed Caniglia needed a psychiatric evaluation. Caniglia agreed, on the condition the police did not confiscate his firearms. However, when Caniglia was taken away in an ambulance, the police entered the home without a warrant and seized his weapons. 

Caniglia later filed a lawsuit against the police department for violations of his Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure. The police responded that their actions fell under an exception to the warrant requirement, based on community caretaking. An appeals court agreed with the police but the Supreme Court ruling found the “community caretaking” rule went far beyond any exceptions the Court recognized. 

The court’s decision held, “a recognition of the existence of “community caretaking” tasks, like rendering aid to motorists in disabled vehicles, is not an open-ended license to perform them anywhere.”

Police Searches 

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects your right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. However, what you might consider to be unreasonable can be very different from what the police think is reasonable. The amendment provides: 

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.“

If the officers violated search and seizure laws, your lawyer can motion to have any evidence unlawfully obtained thrown out of court, which could lead to a dismissal of your charges. Talk to your attorney about criminal defense options in your case.

Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

Generally, the police need permission or a warrant before they can search someone's home. However, there are a number of exceptions that allow for a warrantless search, in limited situations. Exceptions include: 

  • Plain View: where evidence is in plain view from a place where the police are legitimately located. 
  • Automobile Exception: where police have probable cause that a vehicle contains evidence of a crime. 
  • Hot Pursuit: where police are in pursuit of a suspect or in an emergency situation. 
  • Consent: if the property owner or resident allows the police to conduct a search, the police may not need a warrant. 

Victim of an Illegal Search

If you were the victim of an unlawful search and were arrested based on the search evidence, you may have a strong legal defense. Do not rely on the word of the police officer whether the search was lawful or legal. Talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer about your rights. With over 37 years of experience, Lynn Gorelick understands how to challenge unlawful search evidence. If you are facing criminal charges, contact the local East Bay criminal defense attorney who understands that you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested. 

About the Author

Lynn Gorelick

Lynn Gorelick has been an attorney for over 38 years. She is the Attorney Lynn Gorelick is the Immediate Past President of the California DUI Lawyers Association and a Faculty and Sustaining member of the National College of DUI Defense. Lynn is a Specialist Member of the California DUI Lawyers Association and lectures frequently to other attorneys regarding DUI and DMV issues.


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