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Protective Sweeps in Massachusetts

my-mercedes-headlight-585163-m.jpgIn a recent case, a Boston Municipal Court granted the defendants’ motion to suppress evidence based on a protective sweep. The sweep arose when a Massachusetts State Trooper ran a license plate check on a Mercedes. The car’s owner had an active warrant for operating his car on a suspended license and other offenses.

The trooper activated his lights to stop the Mercedes, but he gave up the pursuit after the car sped away. Later, he verified the warrant was still active, but he learned that the man now had a valid license. He ran the license plate and went to the man’s address in East Boston. He saw the Mercedes nearby and went to the apartment building to serve the warrant.

Several police officers waited at the back of the building, while three officers entered from the front. They knocked, claiming to be delivering pizza. A voice from inside the apartment stated the police couldn’t enter without a warrant. The officer knocked and identified himself, but nobody responded. The police heard sounds of toilet flushing and a door that might have been opening to the outside. An officer kicked the front door open to stop the suspect’s escape.

The police found him standing at the back door that led to the porch. He lay prone on the floor upon request. An officer saw that there were others in the apartment and decided to do a protective sweep. He discovered another defendant in the bedroom and also found ammunition, a scale, plastic bags with cut corners, and white powder residue on a spoon. While the officer was sweeping the place, a second officer conducted a sweep of the back porch and found a bag of white powder.

The police read the defendants their Miranda rights and arrested them. They were charged with unlawful possession of a Class B substance and unlawful possession of ammunition.
The appellate court explained that, while executing an arrest warrant, the police can conduct a limited and quick search of the premises to make sure the officers are safe. This is called a protective sweep. This is only appropriate if the police have a reasonable belief that they can articulate that a dangerous individual is in the area. Another person simply being present is not enough to justify a protective sweep.

The Commonwealth argued that the police could have inferred from the flushing toilet sounds that someone inside the apartment was destroying evidence related to drugs. It also argued that when the police saw the defendant at the back door, they could have figured out he was not the person flushing the toilet. It also argued that the sweep was appropriate to protect the police from anybody else in the apartment.

The appellate court disagreed. It explained that the sound of a toilet flushing was not enough to support a reasonable belief that there was a threat or danger that required a protective sweep. When the defendant was lying on the floor, the police had completed their task and didn’t need to conduct a protective sweep to protect themselves. The appellate court agreed that the protective sweep was not justified and affirmed the lower court’s grant of the motions to suppress.

If you were arrested for a drug crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in Mandatory Minimum Case Alleyne v. U.S., Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 19, 2013
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