Recently in Warrantless Search Category

August 25, 2014

Appeals Court Affirms Suppression of Firearm Seized During Warrantless Search of Vehicle

The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently upheld a superior court ruling allowing a motion to suppress a firearm seized after a warrantless search of a backpack following an investigatory stop of a motor vehicle.

In Commonwealth v. Rutledge, two defendants were charged, among other things, with numerous firearms offenses. The arrest was made on July 13, 2011 after a 911 operator in Brockton received a call from a woman who overheard an argument between her current boyfriend and former boyfriend, when the former boyfriend allegedly pulled a gun on the current boyfriend, threatening to kill him.

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May 12, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Considers Constitutionality of Searches of Arrestees' Cell Phones

On April 29, 2014, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two criminal cases that have asked the Court to determine whether searching a person's cell phone at the time he is arrested is a proper "search incident to arrest," or an unreasonable search that infringes on the arrestee's rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. One of those cases - U.S. v. Wurie - is on appeal from the First Circuit in Massachusetts.

In Wurie, the police arrested the defendant in connection with a drug deal. Among other items that were on the defendant at the time of the arrest, the police seize two cell phones from him. After they were seized, the police observed that one of the cell phones repeatedly received phone calls from a number identified as "my house" on the external caller ID screen. A few minutes later, one police officer opened the cell phone and looked at the defendant's call log. In doing so, the officer observed a photograph of a woman holding a baby, which was set as the phone's wallpaper. The officer then navigated the cell phone to determine what phone number was associated with the calls from "my house."

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February 19, 2014

SJC Rules Warrant Required to Obtain Cell Phone Data

Yesterday, in a 5-2 decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that state law enforcement may not compel cellular telephone service providers to provide historical cell site location information for a particular cell phone without first obtaining a valid search warrant. In other words, under Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, the government may not use a person's cell phone records to track that person's physical location unless they have first obtained a search warrant supported by probable cause.

Cell phone service providers use cell sites or cell towers placed throughout particular regions, which send and receive signals from a subscriber's cell phone that is operated within the particular region. When a subscriber makes or receives a call, a record is created of the cell site used. This information enables a cell phone service provider to approximate the location of an operating cell phone within its network based on the cell phone's communication with cell sites in the area. The greater number of cell sites in a region, the greater the accuracy of the cell phone's location.

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