Recently in Search & Seizure Category

July 6, 2013

Can Police Use a Drug-Sniffing Dog Outside a Home Without a Warrant?


In the recent decision in Florida v. Jardines, the United States Supreme Court considered whether police could lawfully use a drug sniffing dog to search a the curtilage of a person's home.

In a unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court held that law enforcement must apply for and obtain a search warrant before they can enter the private property of a person for the purposes of gathering evidence of a crime.

In this particular case, after receiving a tip, the police conducted surveillance of the defendant's home. Officers eventually approached the house with a drug-sniffing canine dog, who sniffed the defendant's porch area and front door. After the canine signaled positive for drugs, the police used that information and applied for a search warrant and eventually arrested the defendant for drug trafficking.

In reaching its decision, the United States Supreme Court reiterated that when government obtains information by physically intruding on persons or their homes, a "search" within the constitutional sense has occurred. In this particular case, search occurred that required the police to first obtain a search warrant supported by probable cause.

The United States Supreme Court grounded its decision, however, based on the actions of the police officers physically intruding on the defendant's property (and not because they had necessarily used a drug-trained dog). Quite simply, because the officers invaded the defendant's property to gather evidence, a search requiring probable cause was required.

If the officers didn't go inside, what are the property boundaries that are protected?

The U.S. Supreme Court regards the area "immediately surround and associated with the home", or "curtilage", as part of the home itself when analyzing any searches for constitutional purposes. While there could always be some grey areas in determining the curtilage of a home, in most cases, the curtilage or boundaries of the home are clearly marked.

Most certainly in this particular cases, the officers' actions in going up to the porch area of the home and just outside the front door was very clearly an intrusion to the home's property and curtilage, and the officers needed to have obtained a warrant before "searching", even with a drug-trained canine.

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September 10, 2010

Boston Man Arrested in Lynn for Alleged Drug Dealing in School Zone


A Hyde Park man was arrested in Lynn early yesterday morning for allegedly dealing drugs on Washington Street in Lynn, and within a school zone. Wilford G. Wright, 41, was arrested by Lynn Police Officers early Thursday morning and charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine; School Zone Violation; Assault & Battery on a Police Officer; Resisting Arrest; and Trespassing.

Lynn Police Officers alleged that Wrigth was standing in a doorway and allegedly conducting a drug transaction with 2 other men. As the Lynn Police Officers approached, Wright allegedly tucked something in his pocket and walked into the building.

Despite several requests from the police to stop, Wright ignored them and only stated "I'm just going to my friend's apartment." Ignoring officers' commands, a Lynn Police Officer physically grabbed Wright and attempted to pat frisk him. At that time, he tried run away from the police and in so doing, pushed one of the officers.

Ultimately, Wright was pepper-sprayed and eventually subdued. After searching Wright, Lynn Police Officers discovered two bags of crack cocaine, a knife, and $73. After his Arraignment in Lynn District Court, Wright was held on $25,000 cash bail.

Despite what may appear to be a strong case for the prosecutor, these facts actually call into question whether the Lynn Police Officer's acted lawfully and with the requisite reasonable suspicion in believing that Wilford Wright was involved in criminal activity.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees every citizen to be free from unreasonable Searches and Seizures. In other words, the police must have at least reasonable suspicion, based on specific information, that the person they 'seize' has committed or is about to commit a crime. Without that reasonable suspicion, a police officer cannot lawfully order someone to submit to their commands to stop.

Wilford Wright should most certainly challenge the officer's actions by filing a Motion to Suppress. Although the officers might have had a 'hunch' that Wright was engaged in a drug deal, a 'hunch' will not justify an arrest. It does not appear that the officers saw any drugs or money being exchanged, concealing something in his hands, or otherwise acting suspiciously. Well what about that he immediately turned the other way to go back into the building when he saw the police you might ask? ...he has every right to do so - and without additional evidence or suspicion of criminal activity, that someone walks away at the sight of police approaching will not justify an arrest.

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June 24, 2010

Waltham Man Arrested for Drug Trafficking in Boston


Jesse Bumbaca of Waltham, and Marino Spirakis of Peabody, were arrested last evening for allegedly engaging in a drug transaction involving almost 1,000 oxycodone pills.

The Boston Police Department reports that Drug Officers were investigation a Kingston Street, Boston, address where Bumbaca was allegedly running a drug business. Sometime around 7:00 p.m. last evening, officers report they observed Spirakis park at that address and Bumbaca came out and handed him a black box. There was no indication that the Boston Police Officers could see what was in that black box, nor was there any elaboration as to why they believed that Bumbaca handing Spirakis that black box constituted a drug transaction.

After both men left the area in separate cars, Boston and Massachusetts State Police Officers stopped Bumbaca's car at the Regatta Hotel in Cambridge. Police Officers seized a backpack containing 950 oxycodone pills, and $8,000. In the meantime, other Boston and Massachusetts State Police Officers stopped Spirakis' car, seizing the black box which was found to contain $52,000.

Bumbaca was charged with Trafficking a Class B Controlled Substance over 100 grams and Conspiracy to Violate the Drug Laws; and Spirakis was charged with Possession of a Class E Substance and Conspiracy to Violate the Drugs Laws. Both men are expected to be arraigned in Boston Municipal Court this morning.

It is not known what information, if any, Boston Police Officers had regarding Spirakis. It doesn't appear to me, however, that there is a strong case for the government, at least as it pertains to Spirakis. Several issues give me many red flags, including issues of Search & Seizure, specifically, whether the Boston Police had 'reasonable suspicion' to stop his car. Without more, what has been reported does not appear to amount to 'specific and articulable facts' to justify a search and seizure of Spirakis' vehicle.

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March 25, 2010

Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules Homeless Shelters Entitled to 4th Amendment Privacy Protections


The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's recent decision of Commonwealth v. Porter P., a juvenile, focused on whether a person temporarily staying in room in a homeless transitional center is entitled to a 'reasonable expectation of privacy' against unlawful searches and searches. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a 5-2 decision, ruled that they do!

By way of background, the juvenile defendant and his mother had moved into a room at the Roxbury Multi-Service Center Family House Shelter in March 2006, which provides temporary housing for homeless families and assists them towards securing a permanent home. A few months later, the shelter's director heard rumors that the juvenile defendant had a gun and then contacted the Boston Police Department. The next morning, five Boston Police Officers arrived at the shelter, and with the permission from the Roxbury shelter's directors, searched the juvenile's room and found a .40 caliber Glock firearm. The juvenile was immediately arrested for Unlawful Possession of a Firearm; Unlawful Possession of Ammunition; and Delinquency.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in ruling for the juvenile defendant, found that

"the room that the juvenile and his mother shared at the shelter was a transitional living space, but it was nonetheless their home...".
As a result, they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their 'home' at the shelter, and the Boston Police Officers' search, without a warrant or consent by them, was violative of their 4th Amendment Right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Justice Ralph Gants, the author of the Massachusetts Supreme Court's decision in this case, ruled that even the shelter's director did not have the 'actual authority' to consent to the police entry into the room to search for a gun. Justice Gants explained that the Roxbury shelter's director was not a co-inhabitant of the room, and although the shelter's guidelines permitted them to call the police, the guidelines did not expressly authorize the police to enter a resident's room and to search for evidence of a crime without consent or a warrant.

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