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Massachusetts Court Holds the Use of Pole Cameras Must Be Supported by Probable Cause

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.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, law enforcement was investigating several defendants for involvement in a drug distribution ring. As a part of their investigation, law enforcement installed five cameras on several telephone and electrical poles. These cameras pointed into the homes of several of the defendants. Law enforcement brought charges against the defendants, based in part on the video footage from these cameras.

Several of the defendants filed a pre-trial motion to suppress, arguing that there was a lack of probable cause to install the cameras, and that doing so amounted to an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment, as well as Article 14 of the Massachusetts Constitution. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion, finding that installation of the pole cameras was not a “search” under either the Fourth Amendment or Article 14. Thus, no warrant or probable cause was needed.

The defendants appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which reversed the denial of their motion. The court explained that, regardless of whether the installation of the pole cameras was a search under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it certainly was a search under Article 14 of the Massachusetts Constitution. Thus, the court sent the case back to the lower court to determine whether law enforcement had probable cause to install the cameras. If so, the evidence will presumably be admitted at trial. However, if the prosecution cannot establish that probable cause justified the installation of the cameras, then the footage will be inadmissible and the indictments against the defendants may be dismissed.

Have You Been Arrested on Massachusetts Drug Charges?

If you are facing a Massachusetts drug offense, or any other type of serious felony or misdemeanor crime, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy for immediate assistance. Attorney Murphy is a skilled criminal defense attorney who has extensive experience handling all types of serious felony and misdemeanor offenses. With his help, you can rest assured that your case – and your future – are in capable hands. To learn more, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Murphy today.

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