Massachusetts Protections Against Unlawful Electronic Evidence May Exceed The Protections Offered by the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forms a basis to protect criminal defendants from unreasonable searches and seizures. Millions of criminal defendants have been assisted by the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary provisions, which prohibit the introduction of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In a recently released judicial opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reinforced the state’s commitment to protecting individuals from the surreptitious collection of electronic evidence by offering state-specific protections that may exceed those offered by the Fourth Amendment.

The Wiretap Statute

According to the facts discussed in the recent opinion, The defendant in this case was discovered and arrested through a series of three drug transactions, each involving an undercover Boston police officer equipped with a cell phone capable of making surreptitious audio-visual recordings. The officer’s phone used an application to transmit live audio and video to remote officers and stored the recordings in the cloud. The defendant’s voice and image were recorded and transmitted without his awareness, leading to charges of distributing controlled substances. The defendant challenged the admission of the evidence at trial, claiming that a Massachusetts statute prohibited the admission.

The heart of this decision lies with the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute, which was designed to prevent the secret interception of oral and wire communications. The court emphasized the importance of distinguishing between situations where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy and those where such an expectation is lacking. This nuanced interpretation prevents the Legislature’s careful wording from becoming meaningless.

Audio-Visual Recordings and the Wiretap Statute

The court clarified that “interception” refers to secretly hearing, secretly recording, or aiding another in secretly hearing or recording wire or oral communication. This definition extends to both audio and visual components, with recordings considered “secretly” made if the person being recorded has no actual knowledge.

In the case at hand, four interceptions occurred during encounters between an undercover officer and the defendant. These included audio-visual recording, remote officers hearing the transmission, storing in the cloud, and downloading to a disc. All were deemed secret, as there was no evidence of the defendant’s knowledge.

Protecting Your Privacy

The Massachusetts Wiretap Statute allows criminal defendants to move to suppress the contents of unlawfully intercepted wire or oral communication. The definition of “contents” is broad, encompassing information about the communication’s identity, substance, or meaning. The court emphasized that both audio and visual aspects of audio-visual recordings should be suppressed under this provision.

Privacy Rights vs. Law Enforcement

The court acknowledged concerns raised by both sides regarding the implications of its decision. On one hand, the court affirmed the Legislature’s deliberate and careful balancing of concerns, asserting that Massachusetts statutes offer strong protections against surreptitious surveillance. On the other hand, the court recognized the potential exposure of law enforcement to criminal and civil liability, emphasizing the availability of warrants to insulate against such liabilities.

Upholding Your Rights by Speaking with a Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you or someone close to you is facing criminal charges in Massachusetts, it’s crucial to be aware of the state’s robust protections against unlawful electronic evidence. The Wiretap Statute serves as a shield, balancing the interests of privacy and law enforcement. If you’re facing criminal charges based on electronic evidence obtained without your consent, understanding these legal nuances is essential for building a strong defense. The Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy are experienced in using both state and federal laws to protect our clients from the charges they face. We can fight the charges against you. Our firm represents clients facing all Massachusetts misdemeanors and felonies, including drug crimes. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.

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