Many Cape Cod criminal defense cases revolve around the issue of searches and seizures. Police sometimes overstep their bounds during stop-and-frisk incidents, arrests, and the execution of search warrants.
Sometimes, however, the issue is not so much whether a search itself was legal but, rather, whether the evidence that was found by police during the search was of a particular type or located in a place such that a given statute is applicable. Because reasonable minds can disagree about such matters, it is not unusual for such cases not only to proceed to trial (rather than be settled via a plea agreement) but, sometimes, through the appellate process, as well.
Facts of the Case
The defendant in a recent case was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon on his person or under his control in a vehicle in violation of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 269, § 10(b). The charge was brought after a woman, with whom the defendant was apparently in a relationship of some sort, made a complaint to police, and police began searching for the defendant. The defendant and the complainant were located inside a truck and camper that was parked in the parking lot of a large retail store. At the time police approached the defendant, who was inside the camper, the camper was hooked up to a running generator. According to the complainant, the pair had been living in the camper for several days at that location.
After the defendant was arrested and removed from the scene, police transported the truck and camper to the police station. While executing a search warrant a few days later, police located a spring-loaded knife with a four-inch blade. The knife was located in the sleeping area of the truck, and DNA testing showed the defendant to be the major contributor of a swab taken from the knife’s handle. After a jury-waived bench trial, the defendant was convicted as charged. He appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence that the camper in which the knife was located by police was a “vehicle” within the meaning of the relevant statute.
Decision of the Court
The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower tribunal’s order convicting the defendant of carrying a dangerous weapon. The appellate court began by exploring the nature of the camper in which the knife was found; according to evidence submitted in the trial court below, the camper was not of the “freestanding” variety with a driving cab and wheels. Rather, the camper was designed as an attachment that was affixed to the defendant’s truck, partially through the use of bungee cords and ropes. Under these circumstances, the court found that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that a) the camper at issue was a “vehicle” or part of a vehicle within the meaning of the statute and b) the knife was under the defendant’s control in the vehicle.
Although the term “vehicle” was not defined in the statute, the court found that its ordinary meaning was “a device … for carrying passengers, goods, or equipment… .” In the court’s view, a camper that was affixed to a truck was a means of transporting people and things; thus, it was a “vehicle” under the statute. Given that the defendant was alone inside the camper for 20 to 30 minutes between the time police arrived and the time that he was arrested, combined with his DNA on the handle and the fact that the knife was found inside the defendant’s sleeping quarters, led the appellate court to agree with the trial court that the defendant had sufficient control over the knife, such that the statute applied.
Seek Counsel from a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are facing felony charges after an arrest by Cape Cod police or other authorities, the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, is here to help. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule a consultation about your case. In the meantime, do not give any statements to law enforcement and do not discuss your case with other individuals. While the Fifth Amendment protects your right to remain silent, it does not necessarily apply to situations in which you voluntarily speak to officers or others about an alleged criminal act.