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Supreme Court votes to limit the community caretaker exception

On Behalf of | Jun 4, 2021 | Criminal Defense

The Fourth Amendment requires police officers in Louisiana and around the country to obtain search warrants before entering private homes without permission. There are exceptions to the warrant requirement, but they generally only apply in situations where police are responding to an emergency situation, chasing a fleeing suspect or taking action to prevent evidence from being destroyed. However, there is one exception to the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure that applies when police officers are performing tasks not related to a criminal investigation. This exception is known as the community caretaker standard.

Community caretaker

The community caretaker standard was first applied by the Supreme Court in a 1973 case that involved a warrantless vehicle search. The justices ruled the police officers who conducted the search did not need a warrant because they had reason to believe a disabled truck that was likely to be vandalized contained a firearm. According to the court, the search was reasonable as it protected members of the community from possible harm. One of the issues that criminal law courts have wrestled with within the years since this ruling is whether or not the community caretaker exception should extend to private residences.

The Supreme Court settles the issue

That question was answered on May 14 when the Supreme Court voted unanimously to order the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to reconsider a case involving a Rhode Island man who sued his local police department after officers entered his home without a warrant and seized his guns. The appeals court applied the community caretaker exception because the man had made statements that suggested he was contemplating suicide. The nation’s highest court has now made clear that a far more rigorous standard should be applied when a private residence is searched.

The Fourth Amendment

With this ruling, the Supreme Court has once again demonstrated the importance of rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. When police officers violate these rights, the evidence they seize may be excluded even if they had a search warrant. Experienced criminal defense attorneys could make Fourth Amendment arguments during suppression hearings if police lacked sufficient probable cause to obtain a search warrant or exceeded the scope of the warrant by searching areas or seizing items that were not specifically mentioned. If you are facing criminal charges based on evidence seized during a police search, you should consider speaking with a lawyer before you enter into a plea agreement.