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Articles Posted in Misdemeanors

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.

In Commonwealth v. Tremblay, the defendant was accused and convicted of breaking and entering while intending to commit misdemeanor larceny and a fifth offense of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. He appealed on the basis that the trial judge made a mistake in limiting his cross-examination of a witness about an issue that was key to his defense.

At trial, the defendant argued he’d made a factual mistake about whether he was permitted to go onto the property of his dead uncle’s neighbor, break a lock, and take a model airplane. He tried to present evidence to this effect. However, the trial judge wouldn’t allow the defendant to question the neighbor about the defendant’s father’s challenge to the uncle’s will, which gave the neighbor the contents of the shed, including the model airplane. The defense attorney claimed that if the neighbor admitted that the ownership of the model airplane was disputed by the defendant’s family, it would have given the defendant more credibility on the question of whether he’d made an honest mistake of fact about his right to go onto the property and take the airplane model.

The appellate court explained that the element of intent to steal, which is required to convict someone of larceny, is negated if the defendant can show he had an honest, even if mistaken, belief he was allowed to take the property at issue. The court explained that testimony about the will dispute was relevant, and the judge should have allowed some cross-examination of the neighbor on whether there was a will dispute.

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When someone is charged with a crime in Massachusetts, they face the possibility of imprisonment, probation, or fines, and sometimes all three. However, individuals who don’t have significant criminal records or who are veterans may be eligible for a pre-trial diversion program. The District Attorney’s Office runs the program.

If a case goes through the pre-trial diversion program, the client doesn’t go before a judge. The purpose of pre-trial diversion is to give a defendant the possibility of avoiding the criminal justice system by meeting certain requirements.  Massachusetts General Law chapter 276A section 1-11 includes the requirements that allow courts to divert defendants charged with certain misdemeanors.

Under MGL chapter 276A section 2, district courts and the municipal court of Boston have jurisdiction to divert someone charged with an offense for which imprisonment can be imposed and over which district courts can exercise final jurisdiction. However, the defendant must be between 18 and 22, never have been convicted in a criminal court after reaching 18 (except for traffic violations that were not punished with imprisonment), not have outstanding warrants or appeals or cases pending anywhere in the country, and have received a program recommendation that he or she would benefit from the program. A separate code section (section 10) covers pre-trial diversion for adult veterans. Adult veterans must meet other requirements and need not be between ages 18 and 22.

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