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Articles Tagged with “Fourth Amendment”

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On September 6, 2012, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth’s highest court, heard legal arguments on both sides of the issue of whether or not a judge should suppress the evidence seized from a defendant’s cellular telephone in circumstances where the phone was seized immediately from the defendant during a lawful arrest but searched about an hour later during the booking process at the police station without a search warrant.

The issue is one of first impression in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and one that other state courts and federal district courts have struggled with to find the proper balance between constitutionally protected privacy rights to significant information stored on a cell phone and allowing law enforcement to continue to do their jobs to further investigate crime. Neither the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts nor the Massachusetts Appeals Court have addressed the issue of whether or not a police officer is permitted to perform a warrantless search of a defendant’s cell phone content after the defendant has been arrested and the pending decision will have a significant impact on the search and seizure law in Massachusetts.

Attorney Patrick J. Murphy of the Boston based Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy presented oral argument before the seven justices of the Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of the Appellant, while Attorney Zachary Hillman presented the prosecution’s responsive argument.

Attorney Murphy stressed to the high court that the legal analysis must first begin by recognizing that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article XIV of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights guarantees all people protection from unreasonable searches of their possessions and any warrantless search by the police is per se unreasonable and evidence gained therefrom should be suppressed. Additionally, Attorney Murphy argued that although there is a search-incident-to-arrest exception to the warrant requirement, that exception only applies in circumstances where the officers are searching for weapons or in a situation where there is a danger of the loss or destruction of evidence.
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One of the most common ways for Massachusetts State Police to charge drivers with Operating Under the Influence (OUI) is through the use of roadblocks and sobriety checkpoints. The purpose of a sobriety checkpoint as defined by the Massachusetts legislature is to “further educate the motoring public and strengthen the public’s awareness to the need of detecting and removing those motorists who operate under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs from our roadways.” Sobriety checkpoints and roadblocks are organized in a joint effort by the State and local police, through which cars traveling on a predetermined road will be stopped and subject to police questioning. This allows officers to take an initial overview of the condition of the car and the condition of the driver, assessing whether the driver could be under the influence of alcohol. If the officer reasonably suspects that the driver may be under the influence of alcohol, he or she will be directed to take a preliminary breath or chemical test or instructed to perform a series of roadside sobriety tests. If you register a 0.08% blood alcohol content during a roadside sobriety test or breath test in Massachusetts, you may be charged with operating under the influence and face serious consequences. In instances such as these, the evidence of ones impairment while operating a vehicle are exclusively found in the results of the breath, chemical, or roadside sobriety test issued by the police officer. The results of these tests are often incorrect or inaccurate due to human and machine errors. An aggressive and accomplished Massachusetts OUI defense attorney will know how to proceed with your case and achieve the most favorable outcome in the event you are charged with OUI at a roadblock.

Fourth Amendment Conflict
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, thus it is illegal to stop or search someone without a search warrant or at least probable cause. While the U.S. Supreme Court has made the OUI exemption to the Constitution, twelve states have found that sobriety checkpoints violate their own state constitutions or have outlawed them. In these states, individuals have more protections against unreasonable searches, and have banned the use of police sobriety roadblocks. However, this is not the case in Massachusetts. In the 1980’s, Massachusetts’s residents challenged the constitutionality of the use of such roadblocks to catch those driving under the influence. In Commonwealth v. McGeoghegan, 389 Mass. 137 (1983) and Commonwealth v. Trumble, 396 Mass. 81, 92 (1985), the Massachusetts Supreme Court found that the State police’s method of using roadblocks to detect drunk drivers was reasonable under both the State and Federal constitution. The adjudication of these cases did however prompt the Massachusetts Supreme Court to outline the necessary requirements to establish a legal roadblock. For a roadblock to be permissible under Massachusetts state law, it appears that the selection of motor vehicles to be stopped must not be arbitrary, safety must be assured, motorists’ inconvenience must be minimized and assurance must be given that the procedure is being conducted pursuant to a plan devised by law enforcement supervisory personnel. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts also requires the state police to notify the media within four days that a sobriety checkpoint is going to be held on a specific date in a specific county.

The biggest issue with the use of roadblocks in Massachusetts is that police officers do not have to witness any erratic behavior or dangerous driving to pull you over; in other words, there exists no probable cause for the stop. This lack of probable cause leads to the dismissal of many OUI cases in Massachusetts, as the police officer will be required to admit that the individual’s driving or conduct was never at issue. An experienced Massachusetts OUI criminal defense attorney will know the best defenses and strategies to win your case. In the event that you are charged with an OUI at a roadblock, speak to a smart and qualified attorney immediately.
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The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy has succeeded in convincing the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts for Suffolk County to allow an interlocutory appeal to review the denial of a motion to suppress evidence seized from a defendant through an unlawful and warrantless search of a cell phone. The case originated from the Boston Municipal Court, East Boston Division. The SJC Docket No. is SJ-2012-0144.

At issue is whether the police acted improperly by searching the defendant’s cellular telephone without a search warrant after seizing it pursuant to a lawful arrest while the defendant was in custody back at the police station. Although the lower court denied the motion to suppress of the alleged cell phone evidence that the police said tied the defendant to the crime, in his decision, the judge at the motion hearing recognized that neither the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts nor the Massachusetts Appeals Court have addressed the issue of a warrantless search of a cell phone after the defendant is in custody.

Unfortunately, there is conflicting case law among the federal circuits. Attorney Patrick Murphy is urging the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to uphold the protections of the Fourth Amendment and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights to require that the police show deference to the warrant requirement before such a search should take place.
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