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SCOTUS Rules Police Cannot Search Homes Without Warrants in the Name of ‘Community Caretaking’

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Monday that an exception to the Fourth Amendment for “community caretaking” does not allow police to enter and search a home without a warrant.

The “community caretaking” exception originated from a 1973 case, Cady v. Dombrowski, in which an officer took a gun out of an impounded car without a warrant. The Supreme Court ruled at the time that police can conduct such warrantless searches if they are performing “community caretaking functions” in a “reasonable” manner.

Monday’s ruling, in the case Caniglia v. Strom, centered on whether that exception also justifies warrantless searches of homes. In a 9-0 ruling, the court decided that it does not.

While Cady recognized that police perform “many civil tasks” in modern society, the “recognition that these tasks exist” is not “an open-ended license to perform them anywhere,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion. “The Fourth Amendment protects ‘[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,'” he continued.


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