Fourth Amendment

2nd Circuit upholds temporary seizure of guns from people taken to mental health facilities

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A federal appeals court has upheld a police policy to temporarily seize guns from people transported for a mental health evaluation following a domestic incident.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York ruled against Wayne Torcivia in a Nov. 9 opinion.

The appeals court said Suffolk County, New York, isn’t liable because its gun-seizure policy falls within a special-needs exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.

U.S. Circuit Judge Susan L. Carney wrote the panel opinion.

Police went to Torcivia’s home in April 2014 after his teenage daughter called an emergency hotline run by child protective services. The police dispatcher said the teenager described a violent, domestic dispute involving her intoxicated father.

Officers said Torcivia told them that he had a heart condition and would die if they used a Taser on him and then asked them to “please tase me and kill me.” Officers took Torcivia for a psychological evaluation.

Torcivia was discharged later that day after he gave his wife the combination to his gun safe. Police seized his firearms.

The appeals court cited evidence from deposition testimony that it was standard procedure in Suffolk County to temporarily safeguard weapons when there is a domestic incident and someone is transported for a mental health evaluation.

Torcivia claimed damages under the Monell doctrine, which allows damages against municipalities for unconstitutional policies that lead to police misconduct. The claim is from the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision Monell v. Department of Social Services.

The appeals court said Suffolk County’s policy serves a special need and is constitutionally reasonable.

“The county has a substantial governmental interest in preventing suicide and domestic violence,” Carney wrote.

There is no Fourth Amendment violation, she concluded.

Torcivia also alleged that the county’s application of the policy was unreasonable as applied to him. The issue is “a close call,” but it need not be resolved because, if the gun seizure was unreasonable, it was because of the officers’ departure from county policy, the appeals court said.

Carney recently announced that she is taking senior status, which gives President Joe Biden a seat to fill on the 2nd Circuit, according to prior coverage by Reuters. had coverage of the opinion, Torcivia v. Suffolk County.

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