The SJC recently issued a decision – Commonwealth v. Onyx White – affirming the allowance of the defendant’s motion to suppress the fruits of a search of his cellular telephone The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision on the grounds that the police lacked probable cause to initially seize the telephone and waited too long (sixty-eight days) after seizing it to obtain a warrant to search its contents.
The basic facts were as follows. In the course of an attempted armed robbery of a convenience store, one of the perpetrators shot the victim. “The next day, the defendant, then sixteen years old, told his mother that he had participated in a robbery … and that someone had been shot.” The mother revealed that information to the police. Two days later, “a detective investigating the robbery-homicide met with one of the … administrators [of the defendant’s high school]. The administrator told the detective that the defendant had become ‘agitated’ earlier that day and had left the school without picking up his cellular telephone,” which was routinely held by the school administration during the school day. The police were not aware, “at that point, [of] any information that a cellular telephone contained evidence of the robbery and shooting, but they were aware, based on their experience, that such devices often contained useful information in cases involving multiple perpetrators.” Therefore, the detective “seize[d] the device without a warrant apparently on the basis of his [supervisor’s] belief that, if the defendant retrieved the device before a warrant could be obtained, he would destroy the device or erase relevant evidence. Thereafter, the device was transported to the police station.” However, the police did not search the device at that time. “The defendant was arrested later the same day and charged with murder. In the weeks that followed, detectives assigned to the case applied for and executed five search warrants, interviewed numerous witnesses, assisted with the grand jury investigation, and also were assigned to work on two other homicide investigations.” Continue reading →