President Joe Biden's administration has sided with law enforcement in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving police in Rhode Island confiscating guns without a warrant, the Washington Free Beacon reports.
The Biden administration, which has faced pressure from progressive groups to take a harder stance on gun control, is backing the officers in Rhode Island who confiscated a man's legally owned firearms after conducting a wellness check when his wife became concerned he might be suicidal.
According to Forbes, in 2015, 68-year-old Edward Caniglia got into an argument with his wife of 22 years, Kim, that eventually led to him taking an unloaded handgun out, placing it on a table in front of her and reportedly saying, "Why don't you just shoot me and get me out of my misery?"
The argument continued until eventually Edward left for a drive, during which time Kim decided to check into a motel for the night. She phoned home the next day, but when Edward didn't answer she called Cranston, Rhode Island, police to ask them to check on her husband. The officers said that they went to the Caniglia household where they talked to Edward, who they said "seemed normal" and "was calm for the most part," and said at one point that "he would never commit suicide."
However, court documents show the officers failed to ask Edward questions about any risk factors for suicide, such as risk of violence or the prior misuse of firearms, which Edward has no history of. One of the officers said later they"did not consult any specific psychological or psychiatric criteria” or medical professionals about their decision, which was to insist that Edward go to a local hospital to get a psychiatric evaluation. Edward agreed once the police promised not to remove his guns while he was gone, which they did, later telling Kim that Edward had agreed to the confiscation. Edward was discharged from the hospital immediately, but did not receive his weapons back until after he filed a civil rights lawsuit.
Although the officers did not have a weapon, they contend that their actions were "community caretaking," which would allow an exception to the Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless search and seizure, though the community caretaking exception was designed for impounded cars and highway safety, not homes.
Attorneys for Caniglia argued in their opening brief to the Supreme Court that "extending the community caretaking exception to homes would be anathema to the Fourth Amendment," and "would grant police a blank check to intrude upon the home."
In its amicus brief, the Justice Department argued that "the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is 'reasonableness,'" and claimed that warrants shouldn't be "presumptively required when a government official's action is objectively grounded in a non-investigatory public interest, such as health or safety."
They add, "The ultimate question in this case is therefore not whether the respondent officers’ actions fit within some narrow warrant exception, but instead whether those actions were reasonable."
The Justice Department also argued that the officers are protected based on the lower court’s ruling on qualified immunity, saying that their “actions did not violate any clearly established law so as to render the officers individually liable in a damages action.”
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