Often times, evidence used to prosecute a crime is seized when a defendant is arrested for another crime. The prosecutor may seek to justify the search under a variety of exceptions to the warrant requirement.
Among those exceptions is the search incident to lawful arrest exception. On July 11, 2014, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the case of Commonwealth v. William T. White Jr. In the White case, Cambridge police officers observed a car and ran the license plate through their computer. The inquiry revealed the registered owner of the vehicle had two outstanding warrants for his arrest. One warrant was for violating a restraining order, the second for a drug offense. The officers stopped the car and confirmed the driver was the registered owner of the car. The driver was handcuffed and taken into custody on the warrants. Prior to transporting the defendant, the officer performed a pat-frisk of the defendant and felt a hard object in the defendant’s pocket. The officer recognized the hard object as a pill container. The defendant informed the officer the pill bottle contained his blood pressure medication. The officer continued the pat-frisk and felt another hard object in the defendant’s pocket. The officer removed the object and found a “One Touch” container. The officer knew the container to be used to store thin strips associated with blood testing. The officer shook the “One Touch” container and heard a sound consistent with pills. The officer opened the container and observed pills. The officer did not recognize the pills but retained them for further investigation.
When the officer returned to the station, he performed an “internet search” in an attempt to identify the pills. The officer concluded the pills were methadone. The officer proceeded to charge the defendant with possession of a class B substance.
The motion judge denied the defendant’s motion to suppress and the defendant was subsequently convicted of the charge. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded the motion to suppress was wrongly denied.
The court analyzed the warrantless seizure to determine if any warrantless exception justified the seizure. Under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, § 1, the police are authorized to conduct a search incident to arrest only (1) for the purpose of seizing evidence of the crime for which the arrest has been made in order to prevent its destruction or concealment, or (2) for the purpose of removing any weapon the person arrested might want to use to resist or to escape.
In the White case the court found the search to be inconsistent with seizing any evidence for the crime arrested. The defendant was arrested on a warrant for violating a restraining order and a drug offense. The court reasoned the search could not reasonably be expected to find evidence of either crime. Additionally, the court stated after the officer shook the container and realized the noise was consistent with pills, a reasonable person would not have believed the “One Touch” contained any weapons.
An experienced Massachusetts motion to suppress lawyer will analyze the facts prior to filing a motion to suppress. Additionally, he will prepare his cross-examination to draw out the sequence of events in an effort to make a winning suppression argument that is supported by the Massachusetts case law.
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Boston, MA Criminal Defense Attorney Jeff Miller has been successful suppressing evidence in criminal cases. Whether the evidence is narcotics, guns, property or statements, thorough preparation is the key to success when litigating a motion to suppress. CLICK HERE to read about cases where Boston, MA drug trafficking defense attorney Jeff Miller has successfully suppressed evidence. If you have been charged with a criminal offense contact Jeff Miller at 617-482-5799 to schedule an appointment.