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Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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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when a deputy ran the license plate of a pick-up truck to find out that the registered owner’s driver’s license had been revoked.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 The defendant also argued that the fact that the registered owner’s license was revoked decreased the likelihood that the driver of the vehicle was the registered owner.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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Police officers make assumptions every single day. For example, a police officer may observe a motorist drift over the center line once or twice and assume that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In this example, the officer relies on the assumption that a driver is intoxicated because they are not able to maintain a single lane of travel.

Massachusetts criminal law allows police officers to make certain assumptions, within reason. Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving whether police officers can assume that the driver of a vehicle is also the owner of the vehicle. The case is important for Boston criminal defense lawyers and their clients to understand because, if the court sides with the prosecution, police officers across the country can make similar assumptions when deciding whether to pull over a vehicle.

The case arose after a police officer ran the tags on a pick-up truck and noticed that the owner of the truck had a suspended license. Assuming that the driver of the vehicle was the vehicle’s owner, the officer initiated a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer confirmed that the defendant owned the vehicle and then issued him a citation.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts homicide case discussing whether the statements made by the defendant should be suppressed. The court held that the police did not safeguard the defendant’s rights by informally translating the Miranda warnings, and went further to hold that the cell site location information (CSLI) was a product of those statements. Thus, the court held that the CSLI data should also be suppressed.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s girlfriend was found dead in her car, with a gunshot wound to the head. The investigating officer noticed a surveillance camera nearby, and after showing the video to family members, the detective developed the defendant as a suspect.

Once police identified the defendant, they arrested him. At this point, police officers realized that the defendant would need to have his Miranda warning provided orally and in Spanish because he only spoke Spanish, and was illiterate in both English and Spanish. The detectives found an officer who spoke Spanish, but was not trained as a translator. This officer read the defendant his Miranda rights.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts murder case resulting in the court’s reversal of the defendant’s murder conviction. The court based its reversal on the improper denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress identification and finger-print evidence that was obtained as a result of an illegal car stop.

According to the court’s opinion, police were investigating a murder that had occurred the night before. Evidently, one man was shot to death as he was driving by another car. A witness identified the vehicle as a Chevy Malibu. Detectives spoke to the witness, who explained that the car should have fresh scrapes under the vehicle as a result of it hopping a curb as it fled the scene.

The day following the murder, police officers observed a Chevy Malibu that loosely matched the description given by the witness. The officers followed the car, thinking they recognized the back-seat passenger as someone they knew to have an active warrant. The officers stopped the vehicle and, as they approached, realized that the rear passenger was not the man with the warrant. Nonetheless, the officers initiated small talk with the driver, asking for his license. The driver provided his license, which was valid, and then the officers asked if the car was rented. The driver responded affirmatively, and the officers asked for the rental agreement. No one in the car was on the rental agreement, so the officers towed the car.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts sex trafficking case discussing whether the lower court could compel the defendant to enter a password so that the prosecution could execute a search warrant that was obtained for the defendant’s cell phone. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant could be compelled to enter the password and that it was not a violation of his right to be free from self-incrimination.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested on suspicion of sex trafficking. When he was arrested, the defendant had two cellular phones with him. The prosecution’s evidence suggested that the defendant used the phone to communicate with several women. The prosecution successfully obtained a warrant to search the contents of the phone. However, the phone was encrypted, and the prosecution did not have the technology necessary to unlock the phone. Thus, the prosecution sought to compel the defendant to unlock the phone. The defendant claimed that requiring him to enter the password would require he incriminate himself.

The lower court denied the prosecution’s request to compel the defendant to enter the password, and the prosecution appealed.

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Last month, a Massachusetts appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts drug case describing the circumstances under which a strip search is appropriate. In this case, the court held that the strip search conducted by police was unsupported by probable cause, and violated the defendant’s constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the narcotics that were recovered as a result of the search.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were in an unmarked car in a high-crime area conducting surveillance. During their surveillance, the officers noticed the defendant, who was standing on the sidewalk outside an apartment complex. Over the course of 20 minutes, the defendant went in and out of the house several times. At one point, an individual approached the defendant, and the two went around the corner for a few moments before returning. Police officers believed that the defendant was engaged in the sale of narcotics.

When another individual approached the defendant, police followed as the two men walked around the corner. One officer saw the two men standing face-to-face, and believed he was witnessing a drug transaction. The officers stopped the other man, searched him, and found a bag containing about $20 worth of cocaine. Police then patted the defendant down, finding $20, but no narcotics. Police arrested the defendant, transported him to the police station and booked him. Because the officer believed that it was common for street-level drug dealers to conceal narcotics in their groin area, the officers instructed the defendant to undress. Once the defendant was completely naked, the officers saw a red bandana, and inside the bandana were seven packets of cocaine.

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