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Articles Posted in Improper Police Conduct

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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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Recently, the state supreme court issued an opinion in a Boston drug crime case involving a large quantity of drugs that was seized after the police ordered the defendant out of his car. The case discusses the type of evidence that a police officer must have to order a motorist out of their car when the motorist is suspected of a crime.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers received an anonymous tip that a Volvo containing a large amount of narcotics would be present at a particular intersection in the Roxbury area of Boston. The police set up surveillance and watched as a pedestrian approached the vehicle. The pedestrian engaged in conversation with the driver, and the driver then reached down toward the floor of the passenger side of the car. The officers could not see if anything was exchanged between the men, but they thought that the interaction was consistent with an exchange.

The officers followed the Volvo as it pulled away, and they initiated a traffic stop based on their suspicions. When they approached the Volvo, the defendant was the sole occupant. The police officers claimed that the defendant was avoiding eye contact and breathing heavily. The officers ordered the defendant out of his car and, as the defendant was exiting the vehicle, noticed that there was a large wad of money in the compartment along the inside of the driver’s side door. The police frisked the defendant, finding nothing, and then searched the vehicle, finding a large amount of cocaine.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts robbery case discussing show-up identifications and when they are permissible under state law. Following an arrest, one of the most important things law enforcement can do to further an investigation is to get a positive identification from the victim of the crime. However, eyewitness identifications have come under scrutiny in recent years, as studies have repeatedly shown that they are not as accurate as once thought.

Law enforcement can conduct identifications in several ways. The gold-standard when it comes to identification is a double-blind photo identification. The term double-blind refers to the fact that neither the eyewitness nor the law enforcement officer administering the procedure know who the suspect is. In a double-blind photo array, one detective puts the suspect’s photograph with several other people’s picture, and provides the photos to another detective who is not involved in the case. That detective then asks the alleged victim to make an identification. Double-blind photo arrays eliminate the concern that the detective administering the array could give a clue to the alleged victim.

In the case mentioned above, the defendant was identified by way of show-up identification. A show-up identification occurs shortly after an arrest. Law enforcement will transport the alleged victim to the arrestee, and ask the alleged victim if the arrestee was the doer of the crime. Of course, there are many problems with a show-up identification based on its inherently suggestive nature. For example, in this case, both alleged victims were transported in the same police car to the defendant’s location, where he was handcuffed up against a wall, surrounded by police officers. As the officer with the alleged victims arrived, he shined a bright spotlight onto the defendant, and both of the complaining witnesses immediately identified the defendant. The defendant was ultimately convicted and appealed his conviction based on the suggestiveness of the show-up identification.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts homicide case discussing whether the statements made by the defendant should be suppressed. The court held that the police did not safeguard the defendant’s rights by informally translating the Miranda warnings, and went further to hold that the cell site location information (CSLI) was a product of those statements. Thus, the court held that the CSLI data should also be suppressed.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s girlfriend was found dead in her car, with a gunshot wound to the head. The investigating officer noticed a surveillance camera nearby, and after showing the video to family members, the detective developed the defendant as a suspect.

Once police identified the defendant, they arrested him. At this point, police officers realized that the defendant would need to have his Miranda warning provided orally and in Spanish because he only spoke Spanish, and was illiterate in both English and Spanish. The detectives found an officer who spoke Spanish, but was not trained as a translator. This officer read the defendant his Miranda rights.

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Instead April of 2019, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an important opinion in a Massachusetts drug case discussing whether police officers can use a GPS tracking device to track the location of a suspect without first obtaining a warrant. The court held that police needed to obtain a warrant, and, by failing to do so, anything they recovered as a result of the information obtained was suppressible as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

According to the court’s written opinion, police officers were in the process of investigating a homicide and obtained the cellular site location information (CSLI) for one of the suspect’s phones. Police suspected that the homicide was drug-related, and that there were several people involved, including the defendant. The cell phone the police tracked was registered to the defendant but used by another individual. However, the police had reason to believe that the defendant would be traveling with the user of the cell phone.

The CSLI data eventually led police to the defendant’s residence, which was a three-story building with multiple rooms available to rent. Police knocked on the door and were admitted into the home. Police eventually made their way up to the third floor, where they encountered the defendant. The police explained that they were investigating a homicide and that they believed the suspect may be in the building. They also mentioned that narcotics were involved. The defendant gave his consent for the officers to enter his room and conduct a search. During the search, the police found $2,200 in cash and two bricks of cocaine. The cocaine was located in a crawl space. The trial court ultimately granted the defendant’s motion to suppress.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts car theft case discussing whether the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers had probable cause to believe that the car was stolen and that the defendant was in possession of the car, but not that the defendant knew the car was stolen. Thus, the court suppressed the post-arrest statements made by the defendant, because his arrest was illegal.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was seen leaning next to a car. As police drove by, they ran the car’s plates and determined that the vehicle was stolen. The police observed the defendant open the car door, throw something in, and then close the door. The defendant eventually got into the car through the passenger’s side door and sat down in the front passenger seat. There was no one else in the car.

Based on their observations, the police arrested the defendant. After his arrest, the defendant admitted to knowing that the car was stolen. The defendant was charged with receipt of stolen property.

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As a general rule, police officers must obtain a warrant to search someone’s home. However, over the years, courts have come up with several exceptions when police do not need to obtain a warrant to search a home. The most common exception police officers use to justify the immediate, warrantless search of a home is to claim that exigent circumstances warranted the search.

Under the exigent-circumstance exception, police can conduct a warrantless search of a home if they have reason to believe that there is not enough time to secure a search warrant. For example, police officers may cite exigent circumstances justify entry to prevent the destruction of evidence or potential harm to police or others. A recent state appellate decision limited police officers’ ability to rely on exigencies that were reasonably foreseeable results of their own actions.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call for an armed burglary and, after speaking with the homeowner, identified the defendant as a suspect. However, because the identification was made at the end of the investigating police officer’s shift, the officer left the search warrant application in the “next day” bin.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts drug possession case discussing whether evidence seized as a result of the police officers’ decision to “freeze” a home while the officers obtained a search warrant. The court ultimately determined that the officers were unable to identify any “specific information supporting an objectively reasonable belief that evidence will indeed be removed or destroyed.” Thus, the court held that the defendant’s motion to suppress should be granted.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were investigating a home after they received a tip that the house was involved in a prostitution ring. An undercover officer entered the home and pretended to be a customer. After being offered sex for money, the officers called in backup to arrest several people inside the house.

Evidently, the arresting officers noticed that other people were in the home, and decided to “freeze” the home, meaning to conduct a search to remove all occupants. In an upstairs bedroom, police found the defendant who was in possession of crack cocaine. The defendant was arrested and charged with possession of a class B substance.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts criminal law case discussing whether a text message that was sent to the defendant’s phone while the phone was in police custody should be suppressed. Ultimately, the court concluded that the phone was lawfully seized after a search incident to the defendant’s arrest. Further, the court held that the manner in which the officer saw the text message did not constitute a “search.” Thus, the court denied the defendant’s motion.

The Facts of the Case

A police officer observed what he believed to be a drug transaction being conducted in a grocery store parking lot. As the police officer approached the defendant, who was alleged to have been the seller, the defendant ran. Another police officer caught up to the defendant a short time later and arrested him. The officer found cash and a cell phone on the defendant, and a black bag containing crack cocaine nearby on the ground.

The police officer took custody of the defendant’s phone and took it back to the station. A short time later, while the defendant was being processed, the cell phone began to ring. The officer looked at the ringing phone and saw a text message notification on the main screen. The court did not disclose the contents of the message, but it was likely damaging to the defendant as the prosecution planned on entering it into evidence. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the text message, arguing that it was discovered as the result of an illegal search.

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