May 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court declines to broaden police power in warrantless searches of homes

Photo of the sun setting behind the U.S. Supreme Court building

Photo: Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously declined to give police broad power to search homes without warrants.

Why it matters: In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas acknowledged the Court has maintained that a community caretaking exception allows police to search cars without a warrant in certain dangerous situations. But he wrote Monday that the exception does not extend broadly to the home.

Background: The case stems from a Rhode Island man's lawsuit against police for entering his home and seizing his guns without a warrant. His wife, who was not at their house, had been worried he might harm himself and asked the police to conduct a wellness check on her husband.

  • A lower court had ruled the search had been covered by the Fourth Amendment's community caretaking clause.

What they're saying: "What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes," Thomas wrote for the court.

  • "[T]his recognition that police officers perform many civic tasks in modern society was just that — a recognition that these tasks exist, and not an open-ended license to perform them anywhere."

The bottom line: "The Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that a person’s home is their castle," Daniel Woislaw, a lawyer at a libertarian litigation firm that filed an amicus brief in the case, said in a statement per The Hill.

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