What's at Stake
Whether the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home.
In this amicus brief the ACLU, the ACLU of Rhode Island, the Cato Institute, and the American Conservative Union Foundation, urge the Court to keep the “community caretaking” exception confined to its historic, vehicle related origins and reject a broader standard that would give police free rein to enter the home without probable cause or a warrant, whenever they think it is “reasonable” to do so.
“It is a ‘basic principle of Fourth Amendment law’ that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.” Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980) (quoting Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 477 (1971)). This rule recognizes that “the Constitution requires a magistrate to pass on the desires of the police before they violate the privacy of the home,” and that the protection of the home is “too precious to entrust to the discretion of those whose job is the detection of crime and the arrest of criminals.” McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451, 455-56 (1948).
The warrant and probable cause requirement is subject to only a few “jealously and carefully drawn” exceptions. Jones v. United States, 357 U.S. 493, 499 (1958). In Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973), this Court held that police officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they searched the trunk of a car that had been towed after an accident. The Court acknowledged that, “except in certain carefully defined classes of cases,” police cannot search private property without consent or a warrant. Id. at 439. It emphasized, however, that “there is a constitutional difference between houses and cars.” Id. (quoting Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 52 (1970)).
Our amicus brief argues that Cady established a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment, applicable only when a vehicle is taken under police custody or control. The exception is based on 1) the reduced expectation of privacy in automobiles; 2) the propriety of non-criminal inventory of automobiles under police custody or control; and 3) the adherence to standardized police procedures as a check on police discretion. There is no doctrinal support for extending the “community caretaking” doctrine beyond inventory searches of automobiles. Cady and its progeny begin and end with standardized searches of vehicles under police control.