Warrantless Search Was Illegal, Says Massachusetts High Court

Under the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution, police officers are required to obtain a warrant in order to execute a search and seizure of a criminal defendant’s home in most situations. Whether or not an exception exists to this general rule is a frequent issue in a Massachusetts criminal case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, police entered a building that contained four apartments. They did not have a warrant but were acting on information supplied by a 9-1-1 caller to the effect that she had seen some men go into the building with a gun. There had been several home invasions in town, although the record did not specify whether those events were in the same neighborhood. While they were conducting “protective sweep” of the building, police officers observed what appeared to be illegal narcotics. After the suspects were arrested in a different part of the building, officers obtained a search warrant for the apartment unit in which the drugs were seen, and the resident thereof was indicted.

The defendant moved to suppress the drugs and other paraphernalia that were seized during the execution of the search warrant. The trial court granted the motion. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the initial warrantless search upon which the search warrant was later based was permissible under the emergency aid doctrine. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts granted further review.

Outcome on Appeal

The court allowed the motion to suppress, thus affirming the ruling of the trial court. According to the court on appeal, the case involved two exceptions to the warrant requirement: the emergency aid exception and the exigent circumstances exception. The court began by observing that a warrantless government search of a home was presumptively unreasonable under both state and federal constitutional law. Under the exclusionary rule, however, there are certain circumstances in which a warrantless search may be justifiable.

Here, the officers’ warrantless search was not justified under the emergency aid exception. When responding to the call, the officers did not observe any signs of a disturbance, nor were there any signs of forced entry. The residents with whom the officers spoke did not report hearing anything suspicious or out of the ordinary.

The court went on to analyze whether the officers’ warrantless entry into the building was justified under the the probable cause and exigent circumstances exception. In order for this exception to have applied, there would have had to have been objectively reasonable grounds to believe that residents of the apartment in which the drugs were seen were in danger or that others were at risk of imminent harm. The court again noted that, at the scene, officers encountered no indications of violence or forced entry and were, in fact, unaware of any resident or victim inside apartment unit in question. After concluding that the officers lacked a reasonable basis to believe that they or others were at risk of imminent harm, the court concluded that the warrantless search was impermissible.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Cape Cod

If you have been arrested and need to talk to an established Cape Cod criminal defense lawyer, the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can help. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule an appointment to discuss your case.

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