4TH AMENDMENT SEARCH ADN SEIZURE
COMMONWEALTH V. JONATHAN G. ALVES
In this case, the Commonwealth appealed an allowed motion to suppress on the grounds that it was ordered prematurely—that is, before the Commonwealth had the opportunity to introduce evidence at the suppression hearing.
On October 7, 2013, the manager of ABC Roofing in Stoughton, Massachusetts reported a theft of approximately twenty pallets of roofing shingles, valued at more than $25,000. After an investigation into the matter, police determined that the culprits had used a commercial truck belonging to Wallboard Supply in Braintree, Massachusetts to transport the stolen material.
Using the truck’s internal GPS, police were able to track the vehicle to the commercial area of 289-373 Warren Avenue in Brockton, Massachusetts. Upon investigation of this area, police were able to identify four pieces of shrink-wrap commonly used to wrap roofing shingle pallets and two black rubber splashguards around the garage of 311 Warren Avenue. The landlord of that property told police that his friend, the defendant, was renting the garage in the rear of the property to store business tools and equipment.
The garage had no windows and was secured by a lock. However, police were able to observe a crack in the doors of the garage and use a flashlight to look inside, where they saw several pallets containing items that appeared to be roofing shingles. With this information, police were able to obtain a search warrant. On October 10, they executed the warrant, finding the stolen shingles.
The defendant was charged with one count of removing or altering a motor vehicle identifying number and one count of receiving stolen property over $250.
Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained by the police. After two continuances of the evidentiary hearing, the Commonwealth informed the judge that the landlord would not be appearing at the hearing and consequentially would not be testifying. As a result, the judge allowed the defendant’s motion to suppress, without hearing evidence from the Commonwealth. The judge’s rationale was that he could not find the Commonwealth had shown it had consent to be in the place from where the officers peered through the crack in the door to see the evidence on which they based their application for a warrant.
On appeal to the Massachusetts Appellate Court, the Court agreed that the judge’s suppression order was premature and denied the Commonwealth the opportunity to meet its burden of proof.
The Court reasoned that the Commonwealth asserted it was prepared to go forward with two other witnesses, in the absence of the landlord. These two witnesses, two police officers, would testify that the landlord gave them permission to search the suspected premises. Since hearsay evidence is admissible in suppression hearings, the Court further stated that the judge should not have allowed the motion based simply on the absence of the landlord. The Commonwealth should have been given the opportunity to present evidence.
The Appellate Court ruled that the allowed motion to suppress be VACATED.
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Source: Commonwealth vs. Jonathan G. Alves, 18-P-18