The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as provisions in the Massachusetts Constitution, prevent law enforcement officers from performing a search of a person or their home without probable cause or a warrant. If a person consents to a search, this constitutional requirement may be waived. However, consent alone is not always sufficient to prevent an evidentiary challenge to the admission of evidence obtained by a warrantless search. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently ruled on an appeal by a defendant who challenged the constitutionality of a search of an apartment where he had been staying.
According to the facts discussed in the judicial opinion, the defendant was the subject of a drug trafficking investigation and was also suspected of using false identities to conceal his alleged drug trafficking behavior. Law enforcement officers obtained search warrants for four apartments that the defendant was suspected of using in furtherance of criminal activity. While searching one of the apartments, officers found a key that they were able to track to another apartment that was leased by an alias of the defendant. Officers did not have a warrant to search this apartment. Police went to the apartment and used the key to open the door, encountering the alleged girlfriend of the defendant. After officers threatened the apartment’s occupant with arrest and other consequences if she failed to consent to a search, she consented to a search, where drugs and evidence of the defendant using false identities was found.
The defendant was arrested based on the evidence found in the apartment, and charged with drug crimes as well as using false identities. Before trial, the defendant asked the court to suppress the evidence that was found at the apartment, arguing that law enforcement lacked a warrant or probable cause to enter the apartment and that the consent given by the defendant’s girlfriend was invalid, as it was coerced. The trial judge denied the defendant’s motions, resulting in an interlocutory appeal to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.
On appeal, the high court evaluated the defendant’s arguments in turn, ultimately rejecting each of them. The court found that the officers had probable cause to enter the apartment based on finding the key to the other apartment and noticing that the lease was under a known false identity used by the defendant. The court further found that the consent for the search was given without coercion or threat, based on the defendant’s girlfriend’s testimony that she did not consider the threats when giving consent and that she wanted the officers to search the apartment because she had nothing to hide. Because the court found that a warrant was not needed for the search to be constitutional, the evidence challenged by the defendant will be allowed at the trial against him.
Challenging Unconstitutional Searches Can Result in Dismissal of Charges
Although the challenged evidence was allowed to be introduced into the defendant’s trial after the recent appeal, such is not always the case when consent is obtained by threats or coercion. If a person gives consent to a search because law enforcement made threats or coerced them, the search may not be valid. If you or a loved one is being charged with a Massachusetts crime based on evidence obtained from a warrantless search, Massachusetts criminal defense attorney Patrick J. Murphy can assist you. Attorney Murphy knows the requirements for a search to be valid, and we have successfully argued on our clients’ behalf for the suppression of evidence and ultimately the dismissal of charges. Our firm represents clients facing all Massachusetts misdemeanors and felonies, including drug charges and identity crimes. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.