CA1: Community caretaking function can apply to dwellings, too, when there’s a public safety issue

Following other jurisdictions, the court holds that the community caretaking function applies to private residences as well. Here, the plaintiff was acting erratically and his wife called the police. It was reasonable to seize his guns when he was sent for a mental evaluation under the community caretaking function. Caniglia v. Strom, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 8100 (1st Cir. Mar. 13, 2020):

For several reasons, we conclude that these police activities are a natural fit for the community caretaking exception. To begin, the interests animating these activities are distinct from “the normal work of criminal investigation,” placing them squarely within what we have called “the heartland of the community caretaking exception.” Matalon, 806 F.3d at 634-35 (explaining that courts must “look at the function performed by a police officer” when examining whether activity falls within heartland (emphasis in original) (quoting Hunsberger v. Wood, 570 F.3d 546, 554 (4th Cir. 2009))). When police respond to individuals who present an imminent threat to themselves or others, they do so to “aid those in distress” and “preserve and protect community safety.” Rodriguez-Morales, 929 F.2d at 784-85. These are paradigmatic examples of motivating forces for community caretaking activity. See Opperman, 428 U.S. at 374 (observing that “sole justification” for search in Cady was “the caretaking function of the local police to protect the community’s safety”).

We add, moreover, that any assessment of the reasonableness of caretaking functions requires the construction of a balance between the need for the caretaking activity and the affected individual’s interest in freedom from government intrusions. See United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552, 1560 (10th Cir. 1993); Rodriguez-Morales, 929 F.2d at 786. This balancing test must, of course, be performed anew in each individual case. The community’s strong interest in ensuring a swift response to individuals who are mentally ill and imminently dangerous will often weigh heavily in the balance. After all, the consequences of a delayed response to such an individual “may be extremely serious, sometimes including death or bodily injury.” McCabe v. Life-Line Ambulance Serv., Inc., 77 F.3d 540, 547 (1st Cir. 1996). Although an individual has robust interests in preserving his bodily autonomy, the sanctity of his home, and his right to keep firearms within the home for self-protection, these interests will sometimes have to yield to the public’s powerful interest “in ensuring that ‘dangerous’ mentally ill persons [do] not harm themselves or others.” Id.

Last – but surely not least – encounters with individuals whom police reasonably believe to be experiencing acute mental health crises frequently confront police with precisely the sort of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t conundrum that the community caretaking doctrine can help to alleviate. If police officers are left twisting in the wind when they take decisive action to assist such individuals and prevent the dreadful consequences that might otherwise ensue, they would be fair game for claims of overreach and unwarranted intrusion. Conversely, if the lack of constitutional protection leads police officers simply to turn a blind eye to such situations and tragedy strikes, the officers would be fair game for interminable second-guessing. Cf. Mora v. City of Gaithersburg, 519 F.3d 216, 228 (4th Cir. 2008) (observing that if police had “not taken the [plaintiff’s] weapons, and had [the plaintiff] used those weapons to cause harm, the officers would have been subject to endless second-guessing and doubtless litigation”).

See techdirt: First Circuit Appeals Court: ‘Community Caretaking’ Function Applies To Warrantless Seizures, Not Actually Caring For The Community by Tim Cushing

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