The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect Massachusetts residents from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement when a crime is being investigated. The most accepted and common way for law enforcement officers to ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment is for them to obtain a valid search or arrest warrant from a judge before performing a search or making an arrest. For a judge to issue a search warrant, the applicant must demonstrate that there is probable cause that the search or arrest is valid. A properly obtained search warrant is difficult to challenge in a criminal prosecution, and evidence gained therefrom is generally admissible during a criminal trial.
Although a valid warrant sets the gold standard for a permissible search, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement which permit law enforcement officers to perform a search without a warrant. One exception exists when an officer is performing a brief investigatory stop of a criminal suspect. The Massachusetts Court of Appeal recently affirmed the conviction of a man who was searched and arrested for burglary after the responding officers approached and searched him without a valid warrant.
The defendant in the recently decided appeal was arrested about a block away from the scene of an alleged burglary. The defendant partially matched the description of the perpetrator as recounted by the victim from her observation of security camera footage taken of the alleged burglary. After the defendant was stopped and detained, the witness confirmed in person that he was the person that she witnessed burglarizing her home on the surveillance footage. The defendant was then searched, revealing that he possessed items stolen from the victim’s home, and he was arrested and charged with burglary.