Trial Court Should Have Suppressed Evidence Obtained During Warrantless Seizure of Massachusetts Man’s Cell Phones

Questions concerning the legality of searches and seizures can play heavily in the resolution of a Cape Cod criminal defense case. With appropriate legal representation, it is sometimes possible to get potentially incriminating evidence excluded from the jury’s consideration at trial.

Without this evidence, the Commonwealth’s case may quickly fall apart. This can result in a plea bargain on lesser charges, or, in some cases, in outright dismissal of the case. Of course, the Commonwealth will usually fight hard against such a result, so it is important that the defendant be represented by an attorney well-versed in this area of the law.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the defendant was arrested on numerous drug charges in 2009. He filed a motion to suppress certain evidence concerning calls made to his cell phones – and intercepted by police while he was in custody – relating to the possible sale of illegal substances. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and he was convicted on multiple charges. He appealed, seeking relief from his convictions.

Decision of the Appellate Tribunal

On appeal, the Commonwealth argued that the trial court had been correct in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during the officer’s interception of the defendant’s cell phone calls because exigent circumstances allowed the police officer to answer the defendant’s phone without first obtaining a warrant. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals disagreed with this argument, however, and reversed the lower tribunal’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress the phone calls (and the fruits thereof) and set aside the verdicts in the court below.

In so holding, the court of appeals noted that the first call occurred 1 hour and 14 minutes after the defendant’s booking procedure began. The second phone call occurred about 90 minutes later. Both phone calls were allegedly from individuals seeking to purchase illegal drugs from the defendant. Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the defendant had a right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures of his possessions, including his cell phones, and any warrantless searches and seizures were presumptively unconstitutional. As the appellate court pointed out, only when a warrantless search fell within a narrow class of permissible exceptions to the warrant requirement could a court deem such as reasonable.

Here, the officer was authorized to “seize” the defendant’s cell phones during the routine inventory search conducted during his booking; however, this authority did not extend to manipulating the phone to answer incoming calls. While it may have, in fact, been impractical for the officer to have obtained a warrant during the short period before the calls were intercepted, there was no evidence in the record concerning the purported difficulty of such. Consequently, the trial court judge should have suppressed the evidence obtained by the officer when he intercepted the calls.

For Advice About a Cape Cod Criminal Case

In a Cape Cod criminal defense case, it is important that the defendant be represented by a knowledgeable and assertive legal advocate who will fight for his or her rights in court and stand up against over-reaching search and seizures by authorities. To schedule an appointment to discuss your case, call The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, now at 888-262-6664. We are working hard to serve and protect our clients during the COVID-19 crisis and will work with you to schedule the best situation-specific consultation, whether in person, via teleconference, or over the telephone.

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