Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

Published on:

home-deck-lines-on-the-porch-1193976-225x300In Commonwealth v. Leslie, the SJC weighed in on privacy interests for residents of multi-family dwellings. In its decision, the SJC affirmed the allowance of the motions to suppress of defendants on the ground that the sawed-off shotgun seized by the police “as a result of [their] unlawful physical intrusion into the curtilage of [Price’s] residence,” a multifamily building, violated the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

The basic facts were as follows. “Detective Griffin … observed a group of four men, who “appeared ‘nervous,’” walking down the street toward “a certain residence on Everton Street (residence)…. [T]the residence was a known location of gang associates and … the neighborhood in which the residence is located was a ‘hotspot’ for shootings and firearms offenses. The property at the residence, which is a three-family home, was fenced in on the front and left side…. The left-side porch area was blocked by a large, blue recycling bin, which obstructed the view of the area from Everton Street…. Griffin observed the four men, including Leslie, enter the front gate of the residence and meet a fifth man, Price, on the porch…. Five minutes after the men arrived, Leslie walked off the front porch, swiveling his head from side to side in a surveillance-conscious manner, toward the left side of the front yard to the side porch area. Although …Griffin’s view was [partially] obstructed…, he was able to observe Leslie crouch down and appear to manipulate something under the side porch.” Later, Griffin “observed Price walk over to the side porch area” and behave “as Leslie had done previously.” “[S]uspect[ing] that a firearm was hidden under the left-side porch area,” Griffin “contacted the other members of his unit … for assistance. The officers intended to approach the men at the residence to conduct field interrogation observations…. The officers approached the men on the porch and began to engage them in conversation…. Griffin, however, veered … to the left side of the yard, where Leslie and Price previously had gone. He saw a sawed-off shotgun on the ground under the porch.” Leslie and Price were arrested. “Subsequently, the officers learned that Price lived at the residence in the second-floor apartment, but Leslie was not a resident.” After the grand jury returned indictments against the defendants for firearm offenses, they filed motions to suppress the shotgun. “The judge allowed the motions …, ruling that the search was governed by [Florida v.] Jardines, 133 S.Ct. [1409,] 1417-1418 [2013], in which the United States Supreme Court held that a warrantless search of the front porch of a single-family home with a drug-sniffing dog violated the Fourth Amendment. The [Supreme] Court reasoned that the porch was part of the curtilage to which the police could lawfully approach but that in bringing a drug-sniffing dog, the police exceeded the scope of their implied license to enter the defendant’s property.” Continue reading →

Published on:


3d illustration: Mobile technology. mobile phone

In a recent Supreme Judicial Court decision – Commonwealth v. Fulgiam – the Court held that the search of the content of text messages requires a search warrant. Despite the existence of such a warrant in this case, however, the SJC rule that reversal was not required.

The background was as follows. The two victims (a man and a woman) were robbed and killed in their apartment. There was evidence that the defendants were involved in drug sales with the male victim. “[T]hrough a court order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §2703(d)” (part of the Stored Communications Act), in response to an administrative subpoena issued pursuant to G.L. c.271, §17B, the Commonwealth procured the defendants’ cellular telephone records. The records “include[ed] call detail information …, subscriber information, cell site location information …, and, for Corbin, the content of text messages.” On appeal, Corbin argued that the Commonwealth’s warrantless access to the content of his text messages “was unlawful on statutory and constitutional grounds, and that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective in failing to file a motion to suppress the records.”

In its decision, the SJC opined that under 18 U.S.C. §2073(a) and art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, “a warrant was required to obtain access to the content of Corbin’s text messages.” The Court explained that “[a] warrant with probable cause was required because Corbin had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of his text messages.” Therefore, stated the Court, “a motion to suppress challenging the Commonwealth’s access [to the text messages] on these grounds likely would have been successful.” The Court concluded, however, that defense counsel’s failure to seek suppression of the text messages did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. Continue reading →

Published on:


Detail of a ambulance light.

The Supreme Judicial Court recently dealt a blow to motions to suppress in roadblock cases in Commonwealth v. Baker.

In this OUI prosecution, the Appeals Court ruled that the motion judge erred in suppressing evidence of the defendant’s intoxication at a sobriety checkpoint. The basic facts were as follows. Under the direction of State Police Captain Majenski, “a detail of State troopers and police officers from the town of Abington (the town)” “conduct[ed] a saturation patrol and sobriety checkpoint.” The police had a “written operational plan” containing guidelines for implementing the checkpoint. “During the roadblock, the defendant was pulled over and greeted by Sergeant … Cutter of the town police…. Cutter observed signs of intoxication in the defendant and directed him to the ‘pit’ area. The defendant refused ‘to drive the vehicle.’ He then was escorted from the vehicle to the pit area where [another officer] of the town police asked him to perform sobriety tests. After the tests, the defendant was placed under arrest.” Upon issuance of a criminal complaint for operating while under the influence of alcohol and negligent operation, the defendant “moved to suppress evidence of his intoxication, arguing that the evidence was secured from a sobriety checkpoint not conducted in strict and absolute compliance with the written operational plan.” The judge allowed the motion on the ground “that the roadblock deviated from the plan in four respects: (1) a number of officers arrived after the reporting time detailed in the plan, (2) while Captain Majenski was briefing the late officers, he was not performing supervisory duties as instructed, (3) one trooper, who was not the officer involved with stopping the defendant’s vehicle, did not sign the duty roster affirming [that] he had reviewed the plan and other relevant documents, and (4) after the roadblock was completed, several officers failed to submit a report as required by the plan.” Continue reading →

Published on:

navigating-gps-maps-1466837In Commonwealth v. Johnson, the Supreme Judicial Court found that it was not error for the trial court to admit data from the defendant’s GPS tracking device at the defendant’s trial for breaking and entering a building during the daytime with the intent to commit a felony, under G. L. c. 266, § 17 and larceny over $250, under G. L. c. 266, § 30.

The background was as follows. “On July 8, 2013, the defendant was charged with having committed various crimes stemming from an incident of domestic violence on Nancy Jones that took place … in the Dorchester section of Boston.” At the defendant’s arraignment, the judge imposed several conditions of pretrial release, to which the defendant formally agreed, “includ[ing] GPS monitoring, staying away from Jones’s home address in Dorchester, and staying away from Jones herself.” On August 31, 2013, Sarah Dundon returned from a six-day vacation trip to find that her home in the West Roxbury section of Boston had been broken into and some jewelry had been stolen. “At some point thereafter, Norfolk County law enforcement officials were conducting a criminal investigation into the defendant. As part of that investigation, they requested that … the probation department review and analyze the data captured by the GPS monitor imposed as a condition of the defendant’s pretrial release in the Dorchester case.” An employee of the probation department’s electronic monitoring program (ELMO) “noticed and mapped the defendant to [Dundon’s] home in West Roxbury, at about 4:20 A.M. on August 29, 2013, where the GPS data showed he remained for approximately fifteen to thirty minutes.” Based on this information, a criminal complaint was issued, charging the defendant with the offenses at issue in the present case. The defendant filed a motion “to suppress the GPS data that was obtained without a warrant based on his claimed expectation not to be subjected to extended GPS surveillance by the government.” In the motion, “he averred that as conditions of his pretrial release on his Dorchester case, he was required to stay away from Jones’s address, i.e., an exclusion zone, and he was required to wear a GPS device to monitor whether he violated that condition. The defendant claimed that he did not know he would be monitored and tracked everywhere he went, and that he had not agreed to that condition.” The judge denied the motion. On appeal, “the defendant claim[ed] that the judge erred in admitting the GPS data because the ‘search’ conducted by the police was unreasonable in light of his expectation of privacy in that data.” Continue reading →

Published on:

gun-1623761-300x202The Supreme Judicial Court recently affirmed the allowance of the defendant’s motion to suppress a firearm in Commonwealth v. Crowley-Chester on the grounds that the police were not justified in impounding the vehicle in which the weapon was discovered.

The basic facts were as follows. At 3:00 a.m. on the date in question, police officer Longo and a colleague “were on routine patrol on Williams Street when they observed a Honda Accord automobile parked on the street in front of a vacant lot and across the street from a church. The vehicle’s engine was running, and its lights were off. Using the police cruiser’s spotlight, … Longo observed two individuals seated in the front of the vehicle, both of whom appeared to be making furtive type movements. The defendant was the front seat passenger. The officers approached the vehicle and, after observing an unknown object in the defendant’s hand and a knife in the center console, ordered the driver out of the vehicle. When the driver got out of the vehicle, a white rock-like substance fell to the ground…. Longo recognized the object to be consistent with ‘crack’ cocaine, and the driver was placed under arrest. At this point, the defendant was … ordered out of the vehicle” and Longo “retrieved and secured the knife. The driver then asked that the defendant, who was not yet under arrest and who was free to leave the scene, be allowed to drive the vehicle.” However, because “the defendant did not have a driver’s license,” “[t]he officers … decided to impound [and tow] the vehicle. In the course of the resultant inventory search [which is required any time the police tow a motor vehicle], … Longo found a backpack containing a firearm. The backpack, which had the name ‘Atreyo’ [the defendant’s given name] written on it, also contained a pay stub with [his] name.” After the issuance of a complaint charging the defendant with firearm offenses under G. L. c. 269, §10(a), he filed a motion to suppress the firearm. “At the hearing on the motion …, the defendant introduced in evidence a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) log of telephone calls made to the … police department reporting criminal activity for three streets in the area around, and including, Williams Street.” The judge allowed the motion to suppress, “bas[ing] his decision that impoundment [of the Honda] was improper solely on his findings that the vehicle was not in danger of damage or theft.” Continue reading →

Published on:

gun-1623761-300x202In a recent decision, Commonweath v. Edwards, the SJC ruled that the trial court judge should not have allowed the defendant’s motion to suppress a firearm recovered following a search of the defendant’s car by Boston police officers.

The basic facts were as follows. At 1:30 a.m. of the date in question, “the Boston police received a 911 call. The caller identified himself by name, Jabari Wattley, and told the operator that he could see a man standing in the street holding a gun. Wattley further stated that he had seen the man drive off in a black … motor vehicle, return and park on Armandine Street …, get out of the vehicle holding a gun in his hand, and then get back into the vehicle. [Wattley] informed the operator that he knew the man, identified him as the defendant, Joshua Edwards, and said that Edwards was not threatening anyone. The police dispatcher broadcast [Wattley’s] information as a ‘Priority 1’ call,” “‘mean[ing] that it was of a serious nature and that response time and protecting officer safety were both high priorities.’” A short time after the broadcast, a marked cruiser driven by Officer Lanteigne arrived on Armandine Street, an area known by the officer to be in a high crime area. “The cruiser did not have its emergency lights activated. Lanteigne stopped when a man (later identified as Wattley) ran … toward the cruiser and began ‘yelling’ to Lanteigne and pointing at a black Acura motor vehicle that was [legally] parked twenty to thirty feet in front of the cruiser, on the right hand side of the street. The Acura … was completely dark; no interior or external lights were on…. At that point, Lanteigne observed the Acura’s brake lights illuminate, and Wattley yelled something to the effect of, ‘That’s him. That’s the guy, he’s about to drive away.’”

In response, Lanteigne activated the cruiser’s emergency lights “and moved the cruiser alongside the driver’s side of the Acura in order to block the vehicle from leaving. Lanteigne believed ‘the Acura was about to drive away … [and] understood that the person Wattley had seen with a handgun was driving the Acura.’ Lanteigne got out of the cruiser and removed his firearm from its holster. At the same time, the defendant got out of the Acura and closed the door. He ‘appeared to take no notice of and pay no attention to’ Lanteigne, and started to walk away. Lanteigne responded by running to the front of his cruiser and ordering the defendant to stop. When the defendant turned and started walking away quickly, the officer … pushed the defendant against the rear of the Acura, forced him to the ground when he resisted being pushed, and handcuffed him. Another police officer who had responded to the scene stood immediately next to the closed driver’s side door of the Acura, and leaned toward the window. He observed a firearm lying on the floor by the driver’s seat…. The police determined that the defendant did not have a Massachusetts driver’s license, and that he was not the registered owner of the Acura. The police decided to tow the vehicle,” in preparation for which “the vehicle was searched pursuant to an inventory policy. In addition to the firearm, the police found an open bottle of beer [and] a cup containing what appeared to be an alcoholic beverage in the console next to the driver’s seat.”

Published on:

gun-1517016-300x225In a recent decision, Commonwealth v. Thomas, the Supreme Judicial Court made several important pronouncements in reference to its decision in Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. 782 (2009), and subsequent developments.

The background was as follows. The defendant and a woman named Johnson were passengers in a vehicle driven by Johnson’s cousin, Humphrey-Frazer. As the vehicle approached a group of people standing in front of a house, “[t]he defendant leaned out of the rear driver’s side window and fired” several shots toward the group. “The defendant’s gunshots were met by return fire; a bullet penetrated a window of the vehicle and struck Humphrey-Frazer in the head, killing him.” During the police investigation of the incident, Johnson told the detectives that she was acquainted with the defendant and “would recognize him if she saw him. The detectives then stopped the interview in order to perform an identification procedure. They presented Johnson with a computer screen that simultaneously displayed photographs of eleven individuals” and asked her if any of the individuals was involved in the incident. Johnson selected the defendant’s image as depicting the person she had observed firing a gun out of the window of the vehicle. Although Johnson said that she had seen the gun, “her description of [it] provided no detail that would suggest that she could identify anything more than its type.” “After the interview [of Johnson], an arrest warrant issued against the defendant.” Subsequently, the police observed the defendant “riding a motorized scooter [after dark] and pursued him, using their lights and sirens in an attempt to cause him to stop. The defendant drove the scooter [on]to a grassy area” and then back onto the street, where he was apprehended. “The next morning, a canine unit from the State police searched the grassy area and found a [loaded] handgun.” Subsequently, the police showed that gun to Johnson who, in response to improperly suggestive questioning by the detectives, asserted that it “‘look[ed] just like’” the weapon fired by the defendant during the incident in which Humphrey-Frazer was killed. The police then made inappropriate confirmatory statements to Johnson regarding her identification of the gun. After the return of indictments against the defendant on various charges, he filed a motion to suppress Johnson’s identification of him (which was denied) and her identification of the gun (which was allowed). The parties cross-appealed from those rulings.

In its decision affirming the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress Johnson’s identification of him, the SJC made the following two significant rulings. First, the failure by the police to follow the “protocol to be used before a photographic array is provided to an eyewitness,” as set forth in Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. at 797-798, does not necessarily require suppression of the witness’s identification of the defendant. The Court explained that although “an identification procedure without such a protocol is unnecessarily suggestive,” suppression is required only where the procedure “was so unnecessarily suggestive as to deprive the defendant of due process.” The Court concluded that such suggestiveness was not present here, where, because Johnson knew the defendant from prior interactions, the risk of misidentification was diminished. “[I]n these circumstances,” opined the Court, “the detectives’ failure to follow the [Silva-Santiago] protocol, standing alone, did not warrant suppression of Johnson’s identification of the defendant.” Second, the SJC — noting the disagreement within the scientific community as to whether sequential photographic arrays are superior to simultaneous arrays in identification procedures — declined to state a preference for either one of the methods over the other. In the Court’s view, “the decision whether to use a simultaneous or a sequential procedure is best left to law enforcement, and the choice will continue to bear on the weight of the identification, but not on its admissibility.” Therefore, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument “that the identification procedure [utilized here] was unnecessarily suggestive because the eleven photographs in the array were shown to Johnson simultaneously rather than sequentially.” Continue reading →

Published on:

smart-phone-1499871The 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 →

Published on:

black-car-1450351The Supreme Judicial Court recently issued a decision – Commonwealth v. Campbell – affirming the allowance of the defendant’s motion to suppress on the ground that his operation of the vehicle, which had been rented by his mother, did not constitute use without authority under G. L. c. 90, § 24(2)(a), and therefore the police had no lawful basis to seize the vehicle and conduct an inventory search.

The basic facts were as follows. A state trooper “stopped [the] vehicle … for failing to stop at a stop sign. The trooper determined that the vehicle had been rented by the defendant’s mother, who has a last name that is different from the defendant’s. Upon request, the defendant provided [the trooper] with a valid driver’s license and the rental agreement. The agreement listed only the mother as the renter and stated, ‘[N]o other drivers permitted.’ [The trooper] concluded that the defendant was using the vehicle without authority, in violation of G.L. c.90, §24(2)(a), which makes it illegal to ‘use[] a motor vehicle without authority knowing that such use is unauthorized.’ Accordingly, [the trooper] decided to impound the vehicle. During an inventory search in preparation for impoundment, a loaded handgun and a box of ammunition were seized from the vehicle.” There was evidence that “upon learning of the seizures, the defendant made incriminating statements to [the] police.” After he was charged with firearm and other offenses, the defendant moved successfully to suppress the physical evidence and his statements. Continue reading →

Published on:

dutch-weed-1251539According to an article in the MetroWest Daily News, a man and a woman were arrested in Framingham earlier this week by police officers searching for a suspect in an unrelated crime.  The article states that the police went to 10 Main Street in Framingham looking for a suspect believed to be involved in a pistol whipping incident at UMASS Amherst that occurred two weeks ago.  The man and woman that were arrested reside in one of the apartments at the Main Street address – the police specifically went to the address because they reportedly “had word” that the suspect in the UMASS incident was friends with the female resident.  When the police arrived, they immediately arrested the woman, who had an outstanding warrant for a probation violation.  According to the article, the police obtained a search warrant for the apartment and then proceeded to search the residence for the suspect in the UMASS incident.  The suspect was not located, but during the course of the search, the police found “a large amount of marijuana” (approximately half a pound) located in several jars under the sink.  In addition to the marijuana, officers also reportedly found $5,000 in cash, several scales, empty plastic bags, and other evidence of marijuana growing – there is no information as to where these items were found.  Following the discovery of the marijuana and other items, the officers arrested the male resident as well.  The man and woman were subsequently charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

Fortunately for the defendants, there does appear to be a viable motion to suppress.  A motion to suppress is a written request by a defendant asking the court to keep certain evidence from being introduced against them at trial because that evidence was obtained as a result of unconstitutional or illegal police activity. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees a person’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  The police have a legal basis to enter a home if they have a search warrant, as long as the search warrant is supported by probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is present in the location to be searched.  If the search warrant is not supported by sufficient probable cause, however, evidence obtained as a result of the search should be suppressed.  Continue reading →