The U.S. Supreme Court remanded a case involving a warrantless search by Dubuque police to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for further consideration in light of a May 17 Supreme Court decision that narrowed the scope of a precedent on which the appeals court relied.
The Eighth Circuit held in United States v. Sanders in April 2020 that a warrantless search of the residence of a Dubuque man did not violate the Fourth Amendment because Dubuque police officers were justified in entering the home under the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment. The officers were responding to a domestic situation and had reason to believe children in the house were in danger, the court said.
The Eighth Circuit cited Cady v. Dombrowski (413 U.S. 433), a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made an exception to the Fourth Amendment that allows a police officer to conduct a search without a warrant “where the officer has a reasonable belief that an emergency exists requiring his or her attention.”
On May 17, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision in Caniglia v. Strom, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, clarified that the Court’s holding in Cady was limited to a search of a vehicle, not a home, and that the 1973 decision is “not an open-ended license” to perform warrantless searches anywhere.
On June 1, the Supreme Court vacated the Eighth Circuit’s judgment in Sanders and remanded the case for further consideration.
It’s not clear whether Sanders will prevail before the Eighth Circuit on remand, however. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing separately in a concurring opinion, said “the Eighth Circuit on remand may still consider whether to uphold the entry under this Court’s longstanding precedents allowing officers to enter a home without a warrant when officers reasonably believe that an occupant is threatened with serious injury.”
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