Plain View Doctrine in a Massachusetts Stolen Property and Heroin Case

In a recent Massachusetts case, the defendant appealed from convictions for receiving stolen property and trafficking in heroin. The case arose when the police received a report that someone had stolen a generator from a construction site. The surveillance video depicted a truck leaving the construction site with the generator. A few days later, the police were told that the replacement generator was also stolen from the site. The video showed that the same truck took the equipment and traveled onto Route 93.

About a week later, a construction company reported to a police department in Dedham that a trailer-mounted generator was stolen from a construction site. The generator had a wireless GPS tracking device that showed it was in Boston. When the police went to where it was located, they saw it was signaling in a parking area and a three-car garage. The officers peered through the fence around the parking area and saw the truck, as well as a generator that had the name of the second construction company on the side. The officers got a search warrant for the property and came back with a Boston police officer.

The Boston police officer also got a warrant to search a truck in Dorchester for construction equipment believed to be stolen. The police officer’s affidavit said he’d first come into the property with police officers under their search warrant for the stolen generator. He got another search warrant to investigate a different theft of a generator from a Boston construction site. On location, he got information from neighbors and also saw a metal stabilizer that would hold up a trailer.

He later got another search warrant for the toolbox. It authorized the officer to break the lock on the tool box and process paint cans for prints. The toolbox contained drugs as well as drug paraphernalia, plastic baggies, and other related items.

After the defendant was charged, he filed a motion to suppress. The Boston police officer testified that while executing his search warrant, he seized a generator that was sitting on a trailer. At trial, he testified he had taken the locked toolbox because he believed he might find paperwork to show who was responsible for the garage.

After being convicted, the defendant appealed, arguing that the locked toolbox and what was inside it should have been suppressed. He claimed that the first seizure of the toolbox under a search warrant was illegal because the toolbox was outside the scope of the warrant. He also argued the second search warrant was not supported by probable cause to allow the officer to break the lock and open the toolbox.

The appellate court disagreed. It explained that seizing the toolbox initially was appropriate under the plain view doctrine. If a search or seizure occurs that isn’t within a warrant’s scope, the Commonwealth is required to show the activity falls within an exception to the general rule that a warrant is required. The plain view doctrine is one such exception. It provides that if the police are legally in a position to see something that is clearly incriminating, and they have a lawful right of access, they can take it without a warrant.

The defendant agreed the initial entry was lawful, since it was based on the suspicion a stolen generator was in the garage. Once inside the garage, it was reasonable for the officer to believe the locked toolbox contained information about the crime being investigated. Additionally, once the officer believed it necessary to look inside, he got a search warrant to search the toolbox. For this and other reasons, the conviction was affirmed.

If you are charged with a theft crime or drug crime in Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014

Contact Information