Articles Posted in Search and Seizure defenses in criminal cases

In the case of Huertas v. United States, the defendant is requesting that the United States Supreme Court grant certiorari in his case, to address the issue of when an individual can be seized for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment.  In order to trigger a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, the person must be seized under the law.  For example, a person is not automatically seized any time there is interaction with the police.  A court will look at the circumstances of the encounter and attempt to determine if a reasonable person would not feel free to leave.  Cases involving flight from the police raise interesting Fourth Amendment issues.

The Branden case was a gun charge.  In gun crimes, often the police will receive anonymous tips that are frequently uncorroborated that a person has a gun.  In the Branden case, the defendant initially spoke to the officer.  The defendant submitted to the officer’s show of authority for between 30 and 60 seconds.  When the officer got out of his car, the defendant ran and discarded a gun while running from the officer.

By temporarily complying with the officer’s show of authority, the defendant argued that he was seized under the Fourth Amendment. The defendant argued that since the defendant was seized, the seizure was unlawful because it was not supported by reasonable suspicion.

The United States Supreme Court is considering an appeal in the case of Gonzalez-Badillo v. Unites States which will address the issue of whether a general consent to search justifies searching a closed container under the Fourth Amendment.  In the Badillo case, the defendant gave a general consent to search as he was at a bus station.  The officer inspected the bags of the defendant and thought his shoes were lumpy.  The officer could see plastic inside the slit of the sole of the shoe but could not see anything illegal.  The officer opened up the sole without obtaining further consent for the search.

The Fifth Circuit found that the search was lawful because once the officer told the defendant that he was looking for anything illegal, the defendant could expect that he would search any item that might contain drugs.  The Court further concluded that the boots were suspicious and that the defendant failed to object during the search made the consent valid.

imagesDissenting Justice Elrod of the Fifth Circuit found that a general consent to search cannot be interpreted as authorization to destroy personal property during the search.  Justice Elrod found that consent to search which includes unlocked containers cannot be said to include the right to damage property found within the containers.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has excluded evidence obtained from the cellphone of the defendant in Commonwealth v. Onyx White following the Boston Police’s failure to prove probable cause for the warrantless seizure of the phone.  The court affirmed that the warrantless seizure of a cell phone in the robbery-homicide investigation could not be justified by the detective’s personal judgment as to whether or not the cell phone contained important information relating to a case. The SJC ruled that the 68 day delay in the respective search warrant application was was unreasonable and that the Boston Police department should have prioritized the application for the respective search warrant or released the cell phone back to the defendant.

About the Case

After speaking with an administrative at the defendant’s high school based on his connection to a robbery-homicide, the administrative had informed the detective that she was in possession of the defendant’s personal cell phone as part of school policy. After gaining approval from his supervisor, the detective seized the cell phone in order to prevent the defendant from tampering with any potential evidence stored in the phone. A search warrant was issued 68 days later following the emergence of new information. Although the detective did not search the phone prior to the search warrant, the forensic search revealed evidence significant to the investigation.

Search and Seizure that occur in the home are subject to the highest scrutiny by the Court.  The case of Commonwealth v. Colon addresses whether a protective sweep complies with the Fourth Amendment and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

What happened in the Colon Case?  

Officers arrived at the home of Robert Colon and knocked on the door, waiting for the defendant to open it. Upon opening the door, the officers identified a “strong odor” of fresh marijuana. This prompted the officers to handcuff the defendant and preform a protective sweep of his apartment.

A protective sweep a search done when there is a reasonable belief based on “specific and articulable facts that the area could harbor a dangerous individual”.

Continue reading

Under state statute (G.L. c. 90 § 24), all drivers in Massachusetts have a legal obligation to stop and identify themselves whenever they know that their vehicle has collided with another vehicle, property, or a person. If the driver collides with another person, leaving them dead or unconscious, the driver must stay at the scene and provide information to another motorist or officer, or leave the scene to find a telephone to report the accident to authorities. Failure to do so could result in license suspension or criminal offenses.

Other states, such as Georgia, also require drivers to provide injured parties “reasonable assistance,” including providing, or arranging for, transportation of the injured parties for medical attention. Under Georgia statutes OCGA 40-6-270, a driver could be charged with a felony hit-and-run for failing to provide such assistance. Another statute, OCGA 40-6-393, also allows for a driver who fails to stop as required under 40-6-270 to be charged with first degree vehicular homicide if he injures a person and that person subsequently dies. Under the second statutory provision, a person could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison, in comparison to the five years under the hit-and-run provision.

The case of Henry v. State, heard by the Court of Appeals of Georgia, demonstrates the different legal issues that come into play in such hit-and-run cases. In Henry v. State, the defendant was operating a vehicle with a passenger down a public road in Georgia after midnight, when he struck two fourteen year-old boys walking in the grass along the road. The passenger testified that he felt an impact and saw one boy’s head hit the hood of the defendant’s pickup truck, and screamed to the defendant: “You just killed somebody. Stop Henry.” The passenger also testified that he was certain that this boy died on impact. Rather than stop to provide assistance as the statute requires, the defendant sped home and later abandoned the truck in a field with the intention of reporting it stolen.

Contact Information