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Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts murder case requiring the court to determine whether the defendant’s statement to police was improperly admitted into evidence at trial. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s arguments, affirmed the trial court’s decision to admit the statements, and upheld the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested and charged for the murder of a drug dealer. Evidently, the defendant arranged for the victim to meet him in a parking lot, where the defendant stabbed the dealer multiple times in the chest and arm.

As it turns out, the defendant had told his girlfriend about two weeks earlier that he was considering robbing his drug dealer. He brought up his plan again to her just two days before the incident.

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Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in a drug case, requiring the court to determine whether the lower court properly dismissed the defendants’ motion to suppress. The court ultimately held that the lower court improperly denied the motion because that court determined the police officers’ conduct did not constitute a “search” under relevant state and federal constitutional principles.

The Fourth Amendment protects all U.S. citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. Primarily, the United States Supreme Court is responsible for determining what constitutes a search and whether police officer conduct, in general, is reasonable. It is then left to the lower courts to apply the facts to relevant Supreme Court precedent.

However, states also have their own constitutions, which may provide additional rights. Thus, while certain rights may not exist under the U.S. Constitution, a state may determine that such rights exist under the state constitution. That is what happened in this case.

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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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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts homicide case, discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress images taken from a digital camera found in the defendant’s apartment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the admission of the photos was not improper, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant and the victim were involved in an on-and-off romantic relationship that was, on some level, characterized by domestic violence. In fact, the defendant had pending domestic violence charges when he was arrested for her murder.

Evidently, the defendant was out at a bar when he told another bar patron that his girlfriend was dead in his apartment. The next day, the patron called the police, who spoke with the defendant. The defendant admitted he killed his girlfriend. Police officers obtained a warrant to search his apartment, where they found a digital camera. On the camera were graphic photographs of the victim with the defendant’s hands around her neck. Police then obtained a second search warrant to search the contents of the camera. While officers had already searched through the camera and reviewed the photos, this fact was left out of the warrant application.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Boston drug case involving the defendant’s motion for additional discovery related to the confidential informant that police officers used to conduct the pre-arranged buys that lead to the defendant’s arrest.

Police officers frequently use confidential informants, rather than an undercover police officer, as a part of their investigation when they suspect someone is selling drugs out of a house. Typically, police officers will give the confidential informant marked bills and wait in a car and watch as the confidential informant approaches the defendant’s home and engages in a transaction. The confidential informant will then return to the officers, bringing them whatever the defendant allegedly sold to them. However, often, the transactions occur inside the home, beyond the sight of the police officers. Based on their observations, police officers will then complete an affidavit for a search warrant, and search the home.

Of course, from the defense perspective, the use of confidential informants is concerning. First, these informants are often drug users themselves, who may have reason to curry favor with local police officers. Also concerning is the fact that it is not uncommon for confidential informants to be paid for their services, raising the issue of bias. In other words, maybe a confidential informant is making up allegations to make a few dollars. Finally, as a general rule, the identity of a confidential informant is protected, thus, they will not appear at trial and the defendant will not have an opportunity to confront them.

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Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that will have a significant impact on many Massachusetts criminal law cases. The opinion, Kansas v. Glover, presented the court with the question: whether a police officer can reasonably assume that the person who is operating a motor vehicle is that vehicle’s registered owner. The Court answered the question in the affirmative. The case is important because, under the Court’s new ruling, police officers can now pull over a vehicle for no reason other than the owner of that vehicle has an outstanding warrant.

The case arose when a deputy ran the license plate of a pick-up truck to find out that the registered owner’s driver’s license had been revoked. The deputy assumed that the person who was driving the car was the registered owner, and pulled over the vehicle. The deputy was correct, and the defendant was cited for driving on a revoked license.

The defendant argued that the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion to pull him over. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the deputy was relying on a “hunch” when he assumed that the driver of a vehicle was also the vehicle’s registered owner. The defendant also argued that the fact that the registered owner’s license was revoked decreased the likelihood that the driver of the vehicle was the registered owner.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts homicide case discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that was obtained from a cell phone that was in his pocket when he was arrested. Ultimately, the court concluded that while police officers legally seized the phone, they conducted an illegal investigatory search of the phone when they used it for “investigative purposes.”

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested on suspicion of murder. On the day of his arrest, the defendant had a cell phone in his pocket. The defendant’s brother and father went to the police station to give statements to detectives. The first question the detective asked the defendant’s brother was whether he had a cell phone. The brother responded that the defendant had his phone.

The detective continued to question the brother about the phone, asking for the code to unlock it. The defendant’s brother provided the correct code, and the detective unlocked the phone. The detective then asked additional questions about the phone, including how the phone’s screen got cracked. The defendant’s brother also told detectives he got the phone new about a year before, he gave them the phone number, and told them that the defendant used the phone “all the time.” Detectives then asked the defendant’s brother for consent to search the phone, which was given. Detectives discovered a video of the defendant discussing his role in the murder.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case involving the legality of an inventory search that was performed by the arresting officers. Ultimately, the court concluded that the inventory search was not permissible because there was a passenger in the car that could have driven the vehicle from the scene, and the officers’ failure to give the driver that option rendered the search illegal.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers noticed a car with a defective rear brake light. The officers ran the tags, and discovered that the owner of the vehicle, the defendant, had an outstanding warrant. The officers pulled over the car.

The defendant was driving. The police officers asked both the defendant and his passenger for their drivers’ licenses, at which point the officers learned that the passenger had a valid license, had no warrants, and was not a suspect in any outstanding crime. The passenger was cooperative and did not appear to be under the influence.

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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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