In Commonwealth v. Burns, a Massachusetts appellate court considered a conviction for an after-hours break-in and larceny of items valued over $250. The case arose when somebody broke and entered a jewelry store after hours and stole jewelry.
At trial, there was testimony that the defendant admitted he stole from the jewelry store, and items from the burglary were found at his home, on him, and in the possession of his family members. There was also testimony that there were tire tracks at the scene that were similar to those from a tire removed from the defendant’s car.
The defendant appealed, arguing that the affidavit attached to the search warrant to search his home didn’t provide the police with probable cause to believe the stolen jewelry would be found at his house seven months after a confidential informant saw it there. The facts to establish probable cause in a warrant must show that there is a belief that evidence of a crime will be located at the place to be searched when the warrant is executed.
The appellate court explained that whether information is timely depends on the circumstances. When there is a long delay, it may be an important factor, but it isn’t necessarily controlling. In this case, the seven-month gap was particularly long in connection with a search warrant for stolen goods. However, the appellate court found that because of the specific nature of the stolen jewelry and evidence showing the defendant had difficulty selling them, the police still had probable cause to search the defendant’s home for them.
The defendant argued that the jewelry at issue was as readily disposable as drugs or cash. This was different from what the confidential informant told the police. The informant claimed that about one month after the burglary, the defendant tried to sell some jewelry similar to what was stolen, and he continued to struggle to sell them five months after the burglary. The defendant told the informant he couldn’t sell the Rolex watches, due to their trackable serial numbers. The informant could identify at least two of the items the defendant tried to sell as jewelry that had been stolen from the store. The affidavit also noted that property stolen for money often stayed in the suspect’s possession for a long time because the suspect tried to sell only a few pieces at a time.
The appellate court found that the affidavit established probable cause that the defendant would still have the Rolexes and other jewelry in his possession.
The defendant also argued that certain statements made by the informant that were contained in the affidavit were hearsay. The appellate court explained that the information was sufficiently detailed to show first-hand knowledge. The informant’s descriptions of stolen pieces were accurate.
The defendant also challenged the admission of the tire track analysis. He argued the investigator who testified didn’t have the qualifications to provide an expert opinion comparing the tire tracks. The appellate court explained that the police had found footprints in the snow near the store, and these led to a parking lot and stopped at a tire track in the snow.
A trained crime scene investigator enhanced the snow impression using wax and took photographs. He photographed an ink print from the defendant’s tire and compared them, finding their treads seemed to be the same. The appellate court explained that tire track evidence may be admitted under existing case law. The expert here had merely testified the designs were similar and acknowledged this was of limited value. For this and other reasons, the judgment was affirmed.
If you are charged with a theft crime in Massachusetts, 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