In Commonwealth v. Morin, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the defendant was entitled to a new trial on the indictment charging him with first degree murder, because his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress the fruits of the search of the defendant’s cellular telephone by the police.
The background was as follows. “[T]he Commonwealth’s theory was that the defendant, along with his codefendant … and two unknown accomplices, robbed the victim of drugs and money, and that the killing occurred in connection with the robbery.” There was evidence that in the days immediately preceding the date of the killing, “the defendant attempted to recruit some people [including a friend named Matteson] to help him rob the victim.” “The defendant told Matteson that the robbery would take place at an apartment owned by the codefendant. The codefendant would use the promise of a drug deal to lure [the victim] to the apartment…. The codefendant would leave the back door open, so that the defendant, Matteson, and others could enter. They would ‘run in, grab the stuff [drugs and money], and leave.’…. Matteson did not agree to participate at that point, and the defendant told him to think about it.” Two days after the killing, the defendant “told Matteson to ‘get the battery out of [Matteson’s cellular telephone], so that no one can hear the conversation.’ The defendant said that if the police asked Matteson where he had been in the evening of November 3, 2009 [the time of the killing], he was to say that he had been with the defendant at a restaurant.” In the course of the investigation of the crime, the police seized the defendant’s cellular telephone and procured a warrant to search its contents. The inculpatory fruits of the search were presented to the jury at the defendant’s trial. In a motion for a new trial, the defendant argued that the warrant authorizing the search of his telephone was not supported by probable cause to believe that the device would contain evidence of the crime and, therefore, that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress the fruits of the search. The judge denied the motion on the ground that the search warrant affidavit did establish the requisite probable cause.
In its decision, the SJC “conclude[d] that the search warrant affidavit did not establish probable cause to search the defendant’s cellular telephone, and [that] the judge’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion for [a] new trial on this basis was error.” The SJC noted that the affidavit included information derived from a search of the codefendant’s telephone, to the effect “that the codefendant ‘made several … calls to [the defendant] before and after’ the time of the homicide.” However, “[n]othing in the affidavit indicated [that] the defendant’s … telephone would contain particular evidence related to the crime under investigation.” The Court concluded that trial counsel’s failure to seek suppression of the contents of the defendant’s telephone, including text messages, created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice because that evidence “likely influenced the jury’s verdict.” “Most damaging to the defendant was a series of text messages he sent to Matteson [several hours before the killing] on November 3,” beginning with one stating, ‘[M]akin sure u still in be ready 1 hour.’ A few minutes later, … the defendant texted …, ‘Do not say anything to no one.’” Several minutes after that message, he “texted, ‘be ready like 45,’” and then “‘where u wanna meet me?’” In the Court’s view, these “messages were central to the Commonwealth’s case,” because they “corroborate[d] Matteson’s testimony implicating the defendant in a plan to rob the victim.”
While the fight to overturn a conviction is by no means easy, it is important to make sure that every client gets the outcome he or she deserves. If you or a loved one has been convicted, you will likewise need a skilled attorney to handle your appeal and/or motion for a new trial. Attorney Daniel Cappetta is as dedicated to his clients, has handled many appeals, and has filed numerous motions for new trials to obtain the right results for his clients. Call him for a consultation.