On March 24, 2021, Attorney Marc DeSisto appeared before the Supreme Court of the United States for oral argument in Caniglia v. Strom. Representing the City of Cranston and several of its police officers—who were sued by a Cranston resident claiming violations of his Fourth Amendment rights after he was transported to a hospital for a psychological evaluation and two firearms were seized from his home in 2015—DeSisto argued that the officers lawfully performed their community caretaking function.
The Supreme Court, conducting the argument by phone in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, sought to define the community caretaking function through a series of hypotheticals ranging from an elderly, typically punctual neighbor hours late for dinner to leaking water on the brink of ruining a valuable Van Gogh. The Court also sought to determine community caretaking’s place among other Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, particularly the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. During his argument, DeSisto distinguished the two, encouraging the Court to “look at the response under caretaking and exigent circumstances. One is reactive, exigent, and one is proactive, caretaking.” “There are proactive things,” he continued, “that fall within the community caretaking doctrine that may not be applicable to exigent circumstances.”
When asked to provide community caretaking with some structure, DeSisto encouraged the Court to weigh the police’s public safety interests against the individual’s privacy rights. “[T]he most important goal,” he argued, “is preventing injury to life or death,” and if “someone might die, that does count for a lot” when balancing the competing interests involved.
The case, which was formally submitted to the Court at the argument’s conclusion, remains pending. The Court’s decision is expected by June.