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Probable Cause When Investigating Theft Crimes in Massachusetts

doorknob-1462093In Commonwealth v. Fasanelli, a Massachusetts defendant appealed after convictions for breaking and entering and larceny. The case arose in 2012 when a police officer sitting in an unmarked car was monitoring a residential area of Malden for suspicious activities and break-ins. He saw two men approaching from behind the car and witnessed them walk past a particular house before turning back and entering the porch. A minute later, they left the porch and returned the way they came.

The officer drove around, trying to find them, and contacted other officers to watch out for the men. He came back to the home where the men had entered the porch to talk to the homeowner. She later testified that she was preparing for the day when someone rang the doorbell. The doorknob jiggled. She opened the door and did not recognize the two men standing there. They asked for someone. and she didn’t recognize the name. They left.

A second officer identified the two men who fit the first officer’s description. One held a red gym bag. While the second officer watched, a marked police car approached the men, who reacted by going behind a house to avoid being seen.

The second officer told a detective where the men went. The detective went to find the men and found the defendant holding the red bag. The defendant dropped the bag and hopped the fence. The detective took the bag and called other police officers to be on the alert for the defendant.

The detective heard that someone had been found hiding under a porch and went to see if it was the defendant. The detective identified the defendant, who was pulled out from under the porch. The first officer identified him as one of the men trying to break into the house. Where the defendant was hiding was also a prescription bottle marked with the name of someone other than the defendant, a hypodermic needle, a silver cup, and jewelry.

The owner of the prescription bottle later testified that her house was broken into previously through her porch. Her laptop and jewelry were taken. She identified certain items that had been found with the defendant as being her family’s, including the red bag.

Upon being charged, the defendant filed a motion to suppress on the grounds that the police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop him. The judge applied a probable cause analysis. The judge found that the police officer asked the defendant what he was doing and told him to stop when he dropped the bag. The judge further found that, at the time of this stop, the police knew that the defendant and another man had behaved suspiciously, trying the doorknob of a nearby home, and had run from a police car that was not pursuing them. The judge found that the police had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant and had probable cause to believe the defendant tried to break into a nearby home.

The appellate court also found that the judge should have told the jury that the Commonwealth bore the burden of proof that the defendant intended to steal property worth over $250 at the time of breaking and entering. But it found that once the jury concluded the defendant attempted to break into a dwelling intending to steal, they weren’t required to conclude the theft would be limited to property under $250. The court found the judge had not made an error in denying the motion for a required finding of not guilty, as requested by the defendant.

If you are charged in Massachusetts with a theft crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014