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Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts burglary case involving the defendant’s challenge to certain evidence recovered by police during their investigation. More specifically, the defendant claimed that the evidence the police relied on to obtain a search warrant was tainted because they discovered the evidence through an illegal entry into his home. Agreeing with the defendant, the court reversed the lower courts’ decisions to deny his motion to suppress, remanding the case for further proceedings.

The Facts of the Case

This case arose after a string of residential burglaries. When investigating the crimes, detectives located evidence suggesting that the defendant and his wife were involved in the burglaries. Before obtaining a warrant, the detectives went to the defendant’s home, knocked on the door, and spoke with the defendant’s wife. The detectives inaccurately told the defendant’s wife that they had a warrant for her arrest.

Upon hearing this news, the defendant’s wife allowed the detective into the home, where they located some of the stolen items. The detectives also found the defendant inside. Both the defendant and his wife were arrested. At the station, the defendant’s wife admitted to her involvement in the burglaries.

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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.

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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