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Defendant Had No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Basement of Multifamily Home in Which He Did Not Live, Says Massachusetts Appeals Court

Many times, the resolution of a Cape Cod criminal case revolves around the issue of whether certain evidence was unlawfully obtained by police. If a court rules that a particular search or seizure was in violation of the law, the evidence may be suppressed at trial.

When evidence is suppressed, it cannot be used to support a conviction against the defendant. Without crucial evidence, the Commonwealth’s case may be much weaker. Charges may be reduced or, sometimes, even dropped.

If the defendant loses his or her motion to suppress evidence at the trial court level and is convicted, he or she can file an appeal. When this happens, the appellate tribunal will review the trial court’s decision to determine whether a reversible error of law was made. If the reviewing court does so hold, it is possible that the defendant’s conviction may be reversed.

Facts of the Case

The defendant in a recent Massachusetts appellate court case was a man who was accused of multiple weapons violations (unlawful possession of a firearm without a license in violation of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 269, § 10(a); unlawful possession of a large capacity feeding device in violation of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 269, § 10(m), and unlawful possession of ammunition in violation of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 260, § 10(h)). The defendant filed a motion to suppress certain evidence that police had recovered in a warrantless search of a multifamily home. Although the defendant did not live in the home, the home (along with the gun seized by police) had been depicted in several videos that the defendant posted on social media.

The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, and the case was tried to a jury. The defendant was convicted on the first two charges but acquitted on the third. After being sentenced to concurrent terms of 5 years and 2 1/2 years in state prison, the defendant sought appellate review.

The Decision in the Case

The defendant’s conviction was affirmed. The Massachusetts Appeals Court began by acknowledging that the trial court had opined that the defendant lacked standing to contest the search about which he complained and that, under the circumstances presented, he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the area that police had searched. Although the defendant argued that the motion judge in the court below had created a reversible error in denying his motion to suppress the evidence obtained by police during the warrantless search and that the trial court had erred in finding him guilty on two of the weapons offenses on which he was charged, the reviewing court found no reason to set aside the lower court’s order.

In so holding, the appeals court sided with the Commonwealth on the issues of standing and reasonable expectation of privacy, as well as on the issue of the sufficiency of the evidence at trial. Under the Fourth Amendment, the issue of standing to challenge the constitutionality of a search or seizure was merged with the question of whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place that was searched. Here, the defendant himself was not in actual or constructive possession of the weapon at the time that it was seized, such that he lacked “automatic” standing to challenge the search. He also lacked standing based on an expectation of privacy because the search took place in the basement of a home that the defendant did not own, that he did not occupy, or to which he did not claim to have been a guest at the pertinent time.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Cape Cod Now Reviewing Cases

If you have been accused of a crime and need a felony criminal defense attorney in the Cape Cod area, please contact the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III for an appointment. You can reach us at 888-262-6664 or through the “contact us” form on this website.

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