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SCOTUS reaffirms the limited use of warrantless searches

On Behalf of | Aug 5, 2021 | Criminal Defense

The U.S. Supreme Court validated the limitations under which law enforcement may search a home without a warrant. Citing the Cady v. Dombrowski case, the court’s ramifications for Illinois residents mean that police can only enter a home under very limited, exigent circumstances without a warrant.

Exceptions to the rule

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement in the privacy of their own homes. In the Cady case, a police officer searched the vehicle of a motorist who had been drunk when he crashed his car. In the process, bloodied evidence was found which, in turn, led police to discover a deceased body on the man’s brother’s property. In this case, courts upheld the applicability of the “community care-taking” doctrine to the exigent circumstances of this search.

Incompatible circumstances

When the U.S. Court of Appeals used the Cady criminal law case as precedent in the matter of Caniglia v. Strom, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that community care-taking used to search a vehicle without a warrant did not apply to a home. Officers from the subject’s local police department entered one man’s home without a warrant and seized his guns. Prior to this entry, the subject was out of the home for personal reasons and did not consent to his guns being removed. He sued the police department; the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling of a lower court and issued a decision in the man’s favor.

The sanctity of the home

Supreme Court Justices have reigned in verdicts supporting overreaching law enforcement search and seizures. In their opinions, they unanimously concluded that the criteria for searching a vehicle without a warrant doesn’t automatically apply to that for a home. Those constraints are limited to urgent matters such as suicides, welfare checks where the occupant doesn’t open the door, medical emergencies and other critical community care-taking matters. The Justices validated the sanctity of the home with the expectation of privacy that the Fourth Amendment grants to U.S. residents.