Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

Criminal investigations have changed drastically in the last 30 years. The rise of cell phones and smartphones has created a new field of evidentiary law related to these electronic devices. Cell phone providers can track the location and behaviors of their customers, and police often seek this information to place suspects at crime scenes. However, both cell phone companies and their customers have a Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure of their phones or data. Therefore, law enforcement must obtain a valid warrant and demonstrate probable cause that evidence of a crime will be found before they can compel a cell phone company to turn over the data. The Massachusetts Court of Appeal recently reversed a lower court’s ruling that had suppressed some evidence of assault crimes that was obtained with a warrant from the defendant’s cellular phone provider.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant had been suspected of a chain of assaults over the course of about two weeks, based on a tentative identification by one of the crime victims. After another victim notified police that they saw their assailant in public, the police apprehended and questioned the defendant. Based on other evidence, the police sought a search warrant for the data related to two phone numbers associated with the defendant. Although the warrants were issued, the defendant’s counsel successfully challenged the warrants and the evidence would not be admitted, but for the State’s appeal.

On appeal, the Court discussed the requirements for a valid search warrant for cell phone data to be issued. Law enforcement must establish probable cause that the suspect committed a crime, that the suspect’s location data would be helpful in solving or proving the crime, and that the suspect had a cell phone at the relevant times. This requires demonstrating the suspect’s association with the cell phone and showing that location data from the phone is relevant to the investigation.

In the area of criminal law, expungement can be a vital tool for individuals seeking to move forward from past mistakes and rebuild their lives. However, a recent judicial opinion from the Massachusetts Appeals Court highlights the complexities involved in the expungement process and underscores the importance of obtaining legal counsel to navigate these challenges effectively.

The case in question sheds light on the hurdles individuals may face when petitioning for expungement without proper legal representation. The appellant, appearing pro se, appealed the denial of his petition for expungement under G.L. c. 276, § 100K. His petition was based on the claim that the criminal record stemmed from demonstrable errors by law enforcement, specifically alleging an unlawful arrest and interrogation without Miranda warnings.

Despite the appellant’s earnest efforts, the court found his petition lacking in sufficient factual allegations to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the charges against him were the result of law enforcement errors. The opinion emphasizes the importance of presenting a strong case supported by evidence and legal arguments—a task that can be challenging without the expertise of a seasoned criminal defense attorney.

In the pursuit of justice, one of the most fundamental principles is that every individual should be treated fairly, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background. However, there are instances where law enforcement officers may engage in selective enforcement practices, targeting individuals based on their race, which raises serious concerns about civil rights violations. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently released an opinion addressing an allegation that the defendant was illegitimately stopped because of his race. If proven, this allegation could be fatal to the prosecution’s case.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant was arrested after a late-night traffic stop in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The initial reason for the stop was the lack of illumination on the rear license plate of his vehicle. However, before approaching the driver, the arresting officer learned that the car’s owner had an outstanding arrest warrant and was Black. Upon confirming that the defendant was both the driver and the owner of the vehicle, the officer proceeded with the arrest, subsequently discovering a handgun in the defendant’s possession, which ultimately led to his arrest on several felony charges.

Before trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence and statements obtained during the stop. To support his motion, the defendant presented several exhibits, including statistics on the officer’s prior citations, which indicated a disproportionately high number of citations issued to Black motorists. He argued that these statistics created a reasonable inference of racial discrimination and thus warranted an evidentiary hearing. At this hearing, the trial judge determined that the officer truthfully testified that he did not know that the defendant was black before initiating the traffic stop. Under Massachusetts law, the Commonwealth can present a reasonable, race-neutral argument to rebut an accusation that a stop or arrest was racially motivated, which the trial judge accepted, allowing the case to proceed toward a trial.

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.

The collective knowledge doctrine is a legal theory used in the state to give law enforcement officers expanded opportunities to legally perform a search on a criminal suspect without a warrant. Generally, the doctrine has allowed police and prosecutors to successfully argue that any single police officer involved in an investigation or pursuit is entitled to perform a warrantless search or arrest if any other officer involved in the investigation, or a combination of them, had sufficient knowledge to justify the apparent constitutional violation. This doctrine has been applied in the state even under circumstances where the officer performing the warrantless intrusion had not communicated with any other officers about what they knew.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently addressed an appeal challenging the application of this doctrine in light of state constitutional protections afforded by Article 14 of the Massachusetts Constitution. The defendant from the recently decided case was searched and arrested on suspicion of armed robbery after reports came in of a suspect that allegedly matched the description of the suspect, who police had encountered on the street. The search of the defendant revealed cash and a gun, and the victim of the crime later identified the defendant as the perpetrator of the robbery.

At the defendant’s trial, his counsel moved to suppress the evidence found in the search, arguing that the officer who performed the search did not have reasonable suspicion that the defendant was actually the suspect. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, ruling that under the collective knowledge doctrine, the arresting officer could be imputed with all of the cumulative knowledge of any law enforcement personnel involved in the investigation, and with that knowledge, reasonable suspicion could be demonstrated. The defendant was ultimately convicted of the crimes he was charged with, and sentenced to a prison term.

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.

The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as provisions in the Massachusetts Constitution, prevent law enforcement officers from performing a search of a person or their home without probable cause or a warrant. If a person consents to a search, this constitutional requirement may be waived. However, consent alone is not always sufficient to prevent an evidentiary challenge to the admission of evidence obtained by a warrantless search. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently ruled on an appeal by a defendant who challenged the constitutionality of a search of an apartment where he had been staying.

According to the facts discussed in the judicial opinion, the defendant was the subject of a drug trafficking investigation and was also suspected of using false identities to conceal his alleged drug trafficking behavior. Law enforcement officers obtained search warrants for four apartments that the defendant was suspected of using in furtherance of criminal activity. While searching one of the apartments, officers found a key that they were able to track to another apartment that was leased by an alias of the defendant. Officers did not have a warrant to search this apartment. Police went to the apartment and used the key to open the door, encountering the alleged girlfriend of the defendant. After officers threatened the apartment’s occupant with arrest and other consequences if she failed to consent to a search, she consented to a search, where drugs and evidence of the defendant using false identities was found.

The defendant was arrested based on the evidence found in the apartment, and charged with drug crimes as well as using false identities. Before trial, the defendant asked the court to suppress the evidence that was found at the apartment, arguing that law enforcement lacked a warrant or probable cause to enter the apartment and that the consent given by the defendant’s girlfriend was invalid, as it was coerced. The trial judge denied the defendant’s motions, resulting in an interlocutory appeal to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

In a recent opinion from a Massachusetts court involving a motor vehicle stop, the defendants’ request for evidence to be suppressed was denied. The defendants were found guilty of possession with intent to distribute class A substance as well as conspiracy to violate a drug law. They appealed, arguing the police officer’s stop of their vehicle was illegal. The appellate court denied the appeal because it found that there were no legal issues with the officer’s conduct during the motor vehicle stop.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, in May 2015, a police officer in Massachusetts observed a black Jeep Cherokee speeding at approximately 80 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour speed zone. Once the officer saw that the car was drifting in and out of its lane, he put on his blue lights and signaled for the vehicle to stop. While he was following the vehicle and waiting for the car to pull over, the officer saw the front passenger bend down completely out of sight. The vehicle did not pull over until the passenger sat back up.

The two defendants were the driver and passenger of the vehicle. The officer noticed that the defendants were shaking and avoiding eye contact, as well as that their pupils were constricted. The officer then ordered the defendants out of the vehicle. He searched the defendants and their car, finding a white substance that the defendants identified as heroin.

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Jurisdictions across the country, including in Massachusetts, have relied on legal loopholes referred to as implied consent laws to allow law enforcement officers to obtain a blood-alcohol test from a suspect without a warrant. Implied consent laws generally function as a part of the motor vehicle licensing code and have been used to allow officers to assume that a licensed motorist has consented to a blood alcohol test simply being licensed to drive in the state. The Court of Appeals of Massachusetts recently heard a challenge to this law. The court considered new rulings by the United States Supreme Court and reversed a defendant’s conviction for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (OUI).

The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with an OUI offense after officers responded to the scene of an accident where the defendant had crashed his vehicle into a utility pole. The defendant was injured in the accident, and police were initially unable to obtain his consent for a blood draw as he was not fully conscious and coherent at the scene of the accident. After the defendant’s demeanor had changed and he was able to comprehend the officer’s questions at the hospital, he was provided a form explaining the implied consent laws in Massachusetts, and he was instructed to sign the form, after which blood was taken from him. The blood sample indicated that the defendant had been operating a motor vehicle at or above the legal limit, and he was charged with OUI.

Before trial, the defendant asked the court to suppress the blood test evidence, as it was obtained without a warrant and without the direct consent of the defendant. The trial judge denied the motion, finding that the defendant signed the implied consent waiver that was handed to him and did not directly object to the blood draw. The defendant appealed the ruling to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, arguing that recent Supreme Court rulings heightened the standard for consent to a blood alcohol test. The high court agreed with the defendant, finding that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019) clearly states that implied consent laws do not give constitutionally adequate consent for all the searches they appear to authorize. The Court found that the defendant did not give constitutionally adequate consent for the blood draw. As a result of this ruling, the defendant’s consent was deemed invalid, and the blood test evidence should not have been admitted at trial. Because of this, the high court reversed the defendant’s conviction for OUI.

Over the last half-century, the widespread use of global positioning systems (GPS) technology has supplemented the toolkits used by law enforcement and prosecutors for investigating and prosecuting crimes. Although GPS technology is widespread and generally accepted as accurate for most location monitoring applications, the use of the technology by prosecutors as evidence in criminal trials may not always be permitted. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently reversed a lower appellate decision that had allowed the Commonwealth to introduce GPS evidence to prove a defendant’s speed and location around the scene of a crime.

In the recently decided appeal, the defendant was accused of armed assault with intent to murder after he allegedly fired a gun into a moving car in an incident in September of 2015. Although there were no direct eyewitnesses to the crime, witnesses described a man meeting the description of the defendant in the area of the crime shortly before the shooting and also fleeing after. Because the defendant was on federal probation for a previously committed crime, he was wearing an ankle-mounted GPS monitor at the time of the crime. Law enforcement investigators assessed the GPS monitor data to determine the defendant’s location and his speed of movement around the time that the crime was committed, and he was arrested for the shooting.

The defendant was charged with armed assault with intent to murder. At trial, the prosecution successfully admitted the evidence from the GPS monitor in the case against him against defense objections. The defendant was convicted of the charges and ultimately appealed the evidentiary rulings and his conviction to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The defense argued that the GPS data pertaining to the defendant’s location and speed at the time of the offense was not sufficiently reliable to be admitted at trial. The high court agreed with the defense in part, ruling that the GPS data from the particular model of ankle monitor the defendant was wearing had not been properly proven or formally tested to accurately measure the speed of someone wearing the unit. The high court rejected the defense’s argument that the location data was not reliable, as it had been formally tested and was generally accepted as accurate in the legal and scientific communities. After determining that the evidence of the defendant’s speed was not admissible, the court reversed the defendant’s assault conviction, and the prosecution will need to seek a retrial of the defendant if they desire a conviction.

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