One of the primary concerns of the Founders was to protect the home from unreasonable government intrusion. A case pending before the United States Supreme Court, Caniglia v. Strom, asks the question of whether the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home.
What is “community caretaking?”
To understand the issues in Canigila, we must look back at previous cases decided by the Supreme Court. In Cady v. Dombrowski, the 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. It emphasized, however, that “there is a constitutional difference between houses and cars.” Since Cady, there has been a whole host of cases that took this holding and created the doctrine of “community caretaking.” Cady defined community caretaking activities as those “totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.” In Cady, the Court found that searches conducted in the performance of community caretaking activities do not require warrants and should be subjected to “the general standard of ‘unreasonableness’ as a guide in determining” their constitutionality.” Cady’s holding began as a rule authorizing a routine, warrantless inventory search of an automobile lawfully impounded by the police. Courts have come to view these police functions as a doctrine, In such cases, law enforcement officers perform dual community caretaking functions of aiding persons in need of assistance and protecting property.