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Massachusetts Court Finds Officers’ Search of Home Cannot Be Justified by Officer-Created Exigency

As a general rule, police officers must obtain a warrant to search someone’s home. However, over the years, courts have come up with several exceptions when police do not need to obtain a warrant to search a home. The most common exception police officers use to justify the immediate, warrantless search of a home is to claim that exigent circumstances warranted the search.

Under the exigent-circumstance exception, police can conduct a warrantless search of a home if they have reason to believe that there is not enough time to secure a search warrant. For example, police officers may cite exigent circumstances justify entry to prevent the destruction of evidence or potential harm to police or others. A recent state appellate decision limited police officers’ ability to rely on exigencies that were reasonably foreseeable results of their own actions.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call for an armed burglary and, after speaking with the homeowner, identified the defendant as a suspect. However, because the identification was made at the end of the investigating police officer’s shift, the officer left the search warrant application in the “next day” bin.

Apparently, the following day, a sergeant read over the application and recognized the defendant from a recent unrelated interaction. The sergeant knew where the defendant lived and based on the seriousness of the allegations the sergeant decided to go to the defendant’s home before the warrant application was submitted.

Evidently, the sergeant went to the home with several other officers and knocked on the door. As the officers approached the house, they saw the defendant look outside and run back into the house. The officers entered the home and arrested the defendant. While the officers were inside, they discovered some evidence and then, after the warrant application was approved, recovered more evidence. The defendant sought suppression of all the evidence based on the officer’s warrantless search of his home. The prosecution argued that the police officers’ entrance was justified once the defendant learned of their presence because he could have destroyed evidence or fled if the officers waited for the search warrant to be approved.

The Court’s Analysis

The court determined that the officers’ entrance into the defendant’s home was not justified by exigent circumstances because the officers created the exigency by showing up at the defendant’s home without a warrant. First, the court stated that there was nothing in evidence suggesting that it was impracticable to get a warrant. Indeed, the court noted that the police had submitted an application for a warrant, but had not obtained the warrant. The court also pointed out that the investigating officer could have secured an after-hours warrant the night before, but he decided not to do so.

Thus, the court held that by failing to submit the warrant application when there was the opportunity to do so, police created an exigency when they approached the defendant’s home without a warrant. The court went on to hold that the officers’ entry into the defendant’s home was based on an exigency that they created, and was therefore illegal.

Have You Been Arrested in Boston?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a serious crime in or around the Boston area, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy. Attorney Murphy is a dedicated Boston criminal defense attorney who has extensive experience handling all types of cases, including burglary, gun crimes, theft crimes, and drug crimes. To learn more about what Attorney Murphy can do to help you defend against the serious charges you are facing, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Court Condones Officer’s Approach and Questioning of Motorist Based on “Community Caretaking” Function of Police, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 12, 2018

Is Secretly Recording Police Officers Allowed in Massachusetts?, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 29, 2018