Articles Posted in Improper Police Conduct

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forms a basis to protect criminal defendants from unreasonable searches and seizures. Millions of criminal defendants have been assisted by the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary provisions, which prohibit the introduction of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In a recently released judicial opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reinforced the state’s commitment to protecting individuals from the surreptitious collection of electronic evidence by offering state-specific protections that may exceed those offered by the Fourth Amendment.

The Wiretap Statute

According to the facts discussed in the recent opinion, The defendant in this case was discovered and arrested through a series of three drug transactions, each involving an undercover Boston police officer equipped with a cell phone capable of making surreptitious audio-visual recordings. The officer’s phone used an application to transmit live audio and video to remote officers and stored the recordings in the cloud. The defendant’s voice and image were recorded and transmitted without his awareness, leading to charges of distributing controlled substances. The defendant challenged the admission of the evidence at trial, claiming that a Massachusetts statute prohibited the admission.

The heart of this decision lies with the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute, which was designed to prevent the secret interception of oral and wire communications. The court emphasized the importance of distinguishing between situations where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy and those where such an expectation is lacking. This nuanced interpretation prevents the Legislature’s careful wording from becoming meaningless.

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  • In a recent Massachusetts appellate court opinion regarding a motion to suppress evidence from an illegal search, the court upheld the trial court granting of the defendant’s motion to suppress, albeit on different grounds. At trial, the judge allowed the motion on the ground that the driver of the vehicle did not commit a traffic violation warranting the stop. The appeals court instead found that the search of the defendant’s wallet was unlawful, and the evidence obtained therefrom was correctly suppressed. The defendant’s ensuing statements and the drugs recovered from his person were fruits of the unlawful search and, as such, were also correctly suppressed.

Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, in the late afternoon of November 20, 2020, members of the State Police gang unit were patrolling downtown Brockton in an unmarked cruiser. The troopers took note of a car parked at a gas station and, after running the license plate, learned it was a rental vehicle. The troopers then decided to follow the car. After following the car for a period of time, the officers activated their emergency lights and stopped the car, purportedly for failure to stop at a red light. Upon approaching the passenger side of the car, the troopers recognized the front seat passenger as the defendant, based on an intelligence bulletin they had received from the Brockton Police Department.

Seeing that the defendant was not wearing his seat belt, the troopers asked him for identification and spotted a large pocketknife in his pocket when he reached for his wallet. They then ordered the defendant out of the car. The officers handcuffed him and conducted a pat frisk, which revealed no weapons. When they again asked the defendant for identification, he stated that it was in his wallet, which he had left on the passenger seat of the car. When an officer retrieved the wallet, he noticed a folded twenty-dollar bill tucked in one of the card slots. Based on his training and experience, he guessed that the bill was used to hide narcotics. The officer then unfolded the bill and found a white powdery substance and asked the defendant if it was fentanyl, to which the defendant replied that it was “coke” or “powder.” The officer then told the defendant that if he voluntarily turned over any more drugs that the troopers would summons him instead of arrest him. The defendant relinquished additional bags of cocaine from his body.

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In a recent case coming out of a Massachusetts court, five codefendants appealed their drug-related convictions. According to the defendants, the wiretap warrants that law enforcement agencies used in their investigation were unconstitutional, thus the evidence discovered as a result of these warrants should have been suppressed. The court considered each of the defendant’s appeals and ultimately affirmed the convictions of all five individuals.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, law enforcement officials came to a Superior Court judge in 2017 asking that judge to grant a series of eleven wiretap warrants. According to the officers, they were investigating a criminal drug distribution network, which was complex and difficult to understand in its full scope. With the warrants, the officers could uncover drug stash locations, the sources of the drug supply, and the different individuals involved in the operation.

The officers also explained to the judge that they had been investigating this particular drug operation since 2001. They had used confidential informants, undercover officers, physical surveillance, and video surveillance. Even with all of these investigatory methods in place, the officers had not been able to uncover all of the information they needed. They also were apprehensive that other traditional methods, such as trash pulls or interviews, would be valuable in finishing up their investigation.

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In a recent case involving investigators’ use of individuals’ cell phone data, a Massachusetts court determined that law enforcement infringed on the defendant’s privacy rights by using his cell phone provider’s data without first asking his permission. The court suppressed part of the incriminating evidence that had been presented against the defendant, reminding investigators that they have to have probable cause before attempting to obtain cell phone data when looking for suspects of a crime.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, throughout September and October of 2018, clerks at six stores in the Boston area were robbed at gunpoint by an unidentified suspect. On a separate occasion in the same area, a suspect shot and killed a store clerk during an attempted robbery. There were several commonalities between the incidents, including that the stores were convenience of gasoline stores, the perpetrator in all of the incidents had the same build, and the robber used similar tactics in each offense.

Investigators worked with the FBI to identify a suspect. They looked at data from “tower dumps,” which are data sets including an enormous amount of cell phone location information from towers in a given area. The investigators obtained two warrants: one relating to three of the robberies, the second relating to three of the other robberies. Each warrant required cell phone providers to hand over information about where their customers were located on the day and time of each robbery.

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In a recent case coming out of a Massachusetts court, the defendant argued that officers did not have a legal reason to conduct a traffic stop of his vehicle. Because the officers had no reason to conduct the stop, the incriminating evidence that the officers found during the traffic stop should have been suppressed. Looking at the circumstances, the court agreed with the defendant and reversed his original guilty verdict.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, two Boston police officers were on patrol one evening in an unmarked car. When they saw a double-parked vehicle, they went to investigate and found the defendant sitting in the back seat of the car. One of the two officers recognized the defendant from prior interactions, and the two individuals began conversing. The officers advised the defendant to move his car, and they then watched the defendant drive away.

The defendant passed several other parking spots, choosing not to park but instead to turn onto another street. At that point, the officers became suspicious and pulled the defendant over. One of the officers immediately saw a gun on the floor of the backseat, at which point the defendant was arrested.

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In a recent decision from a court in Massachusetts, a lower court’s ruling that incriminating evidence should be suppressed was reversed. Originally, a lower court had determined that because a state trooper did not have sufficient reason to pull over the defendant on the highway, the drugs found in the defendant’s car should not be used against him in court. The higher court disagreed, saying the trooper did, in fact, have reason to pull the defendant over in the first place. It was thus acceptable for the State to use the incriminating evidence against the defendant at trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was driving on the highway when a state police trooper conducted a random check on the defendant’s vehicle to find out if it was properly registered. As a result, the trooper learned that the vehicle had failed its most recent inspection approximately two weeks earlier.

Juveniles who commit or are accused of criminal conduct are often victims of a difficult and unsupported life, leading them into a criminal lifestyle. In Massachusetts, juvenile criminal law is not designed merely to punish criminal conduct but to address the underlying factors that led juveniles into a criminal lifestyle. Because of this, juveniles accused of crimes are not to be treated as criminals but as children in need of assistance and support. Along with this assumption comes legal protections that prevent juveniles from falling deeper into the criminal justice system.

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in a juvenile criminal case that demonstrated the strength of the protections that juveniles are entitled to in the state when they are accused of committing crimes. In the recently decided case, the defendant was a juvenile when he was stopped by police for allegedly possessing a stolen vehicle. When police started questioning the juvenile, he gave them an inaccurate name and refused to say his date of birth. Ultimately he confessed to stealing the car. Once the arresting officer ascertained his actual name and date of birth, questioning ceased, and the minor was given a citation and released.

At a delinquency action for the car theft, the minor sought to suppress his confession and other statements to police because he was not given the opportunity guaranteed to juveniles to have an interested adult present during his questioning. The prosecution argued that the minor essentially waived that right by giving false information to the officer and refusing to tell him his date of birth, and the officer had no way of knowing he was a minor. The motion judge agreed with the prosecution, and the defendant was ultimately found to have committed the crime and adjudicated as delinquent.

Massachusetts police departments and prosecutors regularly rely on exceptions to the general rule requiring a warrant to enter the home of a suspect in order to collect evidence or make an arrest. As courts have carved out exceptions to the warrant requirement, police eagerly use them to make their jobs easier, often in questionable ways. In recent years, police have used what is commonly called the “hot pursuit” exception to enter the home of a fleeing suspect to gather evidence and make an arrest. The United States Supreme Court recently released a decision that will limit law enforcement’s ability to enter the home of a fleeing suspect who has not committed a felony.

The defendant in the recently decided case was seen by a police officer playing loud music and honking his horn repeatedly while driving on a public road. The officer attempted to stop the defendant for alleged motor vehicle infractions and signaled him to pull over. The defendant apparently ignored the police lights and drove a short distance to his garage where he entered the garage and got out of his car. The officer followed the defendant into the garage without obtaining a search or arrest warrant, seeking to cite him for the misdemeanor charge of failing to comply with a police signal. After interacting with the defendant, the officer claimed to notice signs of intoxication. The defendant submitted to a chemical test and was found to have a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit. He was charged with a DUI.

The defendant challenged his arrest before trial. The defendant argued that the officer’s entry into his home without a warrant was a violation of his 4th and 14th amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizure. The trial court rejected the defendant’s motion, finding that the officer was in “hot pursuit” of the defendant and he was entitled to enter his home without a warrant because the pursuit was an exigent circumstance. The defendant was ultimately convicted of the DUI charge and appealed the case to the California Court of Appeals. The California Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s appeal, finding that pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect was always an exigent circumstance that justified warrantless entry, and the California Supreme Court declined to hear a further appeal.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an unusual, but highly relevant, case. The case involved a crime prohibiting the removal of human remains; however, more importantly, the case is a good illustration of Massachusetts constitutional law as it pertains to statements given to police.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers received a tip that there were three human skulls on the defendant’s front porch. Within a few hours, police arrived at the defendant’s home to question him about the skulls. The defendant explained that he was a priest in the Palo Mayombe religion, and that he purchased the remains from an unknown man in Worcester for $3,000 apiece. Without prompting, the defendant also showed the officer a photograph of the remains in the tomb, before they had been removed. The photographs indicated that the cemetery was in Worcester. The officer did not arrest the defendant.

Later, other officers returned to further question the defendant. One of the officers learned that a cemetery in Worcester had been broken into, and several human remains were taken. The defendant agreed to go to the police station to give a statement. He was not given his Miranda warnings, and spoke to detectives for two hours. However, at the end of the interview, the defendant refused to sign the interview. At the end of the interview, detectives determined they had probable cause to arrest the defendant.

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Late last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case requiring the court to determine if the police officers legally stopped the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was armed and dangerous. As a result, they did not have the legal authority to conduct a pat frisk of the defendant or to search his vehicle.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers noticed the defendant’s vehicle had a cracked windshield and an expired registration sticker. The officers turned on their overhead lights and, after driving for a short while, the defendant pulled into a residential driveway and got out of the car. As the officers approached, the defendant looked into his vehicle a few times. The officers ordered the defendant to stay put, and patted him down, finding a knife. The officers then asked the defendant is he had any other weapons in the car, and he admitted that there was a firearm inside. The defendant was arrested and charged with various Massachusetts gun crimes. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the officers lacked reason to search him or his vehicle.

The court began its analysis by noting that the initial traffic stop was legal, as the defendant’s car was observed to have a cracked windshield and expired registration. The court also noted that the defendant voluntarily exited his vehicle, leaving the only question for the court to answer being whether the officers had legal justification to patfrisk the defendant and to search his car.

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