U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case Involving the Community Caretaking Doctrine that May Impact New York Residents

Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case, important to New York Criminal defense lawyers, requiring the court to determine if the “community caretaking” function of police officers allows them to enter a private resident’s home. While the Court has not yet issued an opinion in the case, one is expected by the middle of the year. When the Court ultimately decides the case, it could significantly impact New York search and seizure laws.

What Is the Community Caretaking Function?

Under the state and federal constitutions, police officers are generally required to obtain a warrant before searching a person or their belongings, including their cars and homes. However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. Most notably, police officers can conduct limited searches after making a lawful arrest.

However, there are also other exceptions. For example, say a police officer sees someone pulled off the side of the road in their car. As the officer drives by, the person is slumped over the wheel. Fearing that the person may have suffered some kind of medical event, the officer stops and knocks on their window. As it turns out, the driver was intoxicated. In this case, although the officer may not have had probable cause to stop the driver, courts would likely consider the traffic stop and subsequent arrest of the defendant lawful because the officer was not investigating a potential crime.

The Issue in Front of the Supreme Court

In the case, Caniglia v. Strom, the Court was asked whether the community caretaking function extends to a search of a private home. Courts across the country are split on whether police are able to search someone’s home—and not just their car or person—under the community caretaking doctrine.

In this case, Caniglia and his wife got into an argument, during which Caniglia told his wife, “shoot me now.” Fearing for her own safety, his wife left for the evening. She returned the next day with police officers, fearing her husband may have hurt himself.

Caniglia agreed to go in for a psychological evaluation. While he was away from his home, officers seized two of his guns, knowing that Caniglia would not have voluntarily relinquished them. The question is whether the police were validly acting under the community caretaking function.

Many argued that the community caretaking function is problematic because it allows police officers to skirt the constitutional rights of defendants, as long as they claim to be acting in the defendant’s best interest. In other words, it introduces an element of subjectivity into what is otherwise an objective determination.

Have You Been Arrested for a Serious Crime?

If you are facing New York gun charges, the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates are here to help. We have decades of experience handling all types of serious crimes, including gun possession offenses, drug crimes, allegations of domestic violence, and more. We are known throughout the area as being aggressive advocates and take every case as seriously as though it was our own. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, give us a call at 877-377-8666. You can also reach us through our online form.

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