The United States Supreme Court recently decided a case that may have a profound impact on many Virginia criminal cases. Although the case is civil in nature, it impacts state and federal search and seizure law.
The case arose following a 2015 altercation between a woman and her husband. The wife was concerned for her husband’s safety after he made disturbing remarks during an argument. In response, she called the police, and they offered to escort him to a local hospital for evaluation. The husband agreed on the condition that the police would not confiscate his handguns. The police agreed but then confiscated the handguns. The man filed a civil lawsuit against the police department after they failed to return the handguns.
A federal appeals court upheld the handgun seizure under the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment. The appeals court reasoned that law enforcement officers are “masters of all emergencies” and, as such, they need some “elbow room” to engage determine the appropriate action in these situations. Following that decision, the man petitioned the Supreme Court to review the matter. The Supreme Court was tasked with answering whether the “community caretaking” exception extends to police officer’s entry into a private citizen’s home.
The doctrine at issue stems from a 1973 ruling that provides police discretion to conduct warrantless searches while carrying out the duties of their job. Although the ruling applied to car searches, courts have extended the doctrine to other contexts. However, much has changed since 1973, yet officers are granted broad leeway under the community caretaking exception.
This police-centered model of public safety does not necessarily comport with society’s present-day needs. Further, some significant laws and policies address exigent circumstances, which do not amount to an unlawful search and seizure.
The Court’s Decision
Ultimately, the Court resolved the case in favor of the defendant. In doing so, the Court noted that there is a “constitutional difference” between the search of a vehicle and the search of a person’s home. The latter, the Court held, is entitled to more protection as the right to retreat into one’s own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion is at the very core of the Fourth Amendment.
Have You Been Charged with a Virginia Criminal Offense?
If you or someone you know has been arrested and charged with a Virginia criminal offense, contact Robinson Law, PLLC. The attorneys at our office have extensive experience handling even the most complex Virginia criminal cases. We understand the importance of the state and federal constitutions and the rights they confer to all citizens. Our attorneys are equipped with the skills, resources, and experience to handle all stages of a criminal case, including investigations, pre-trial hearings and motions and jury trials. We handle criminal cases stemming from Virginia drug crimes, weapons offenses, allegations of domestic violence, and more. Our attorneys keep up-to-date on the extensive changes to Virginia criminal procedural and substantive laws. Contact the attorneys at Robinson Law, by calling 703-542-3616 to schedule your free case evaluation.