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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Grants Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained Through Warrantless Search Based on Cell Cite Location Information

As technology evolves, so does Massachusetts criminal law. Just as those who intentionally engage in criminal activity often rely on technology such as cell phones to conduct their business, police officers and others in law enforcement increasingly rely on information obtained through technology that, just a decade or two ago, may not have even existed.

When an arrest is made based on information obtained through the use of a technological device, the courts must consider whether police acted lawfully in light of the 4th Amendment prohibition against unlawful searches and seizures, as well as other relevant legal principles.

Facts of the Case

In an appellate case arising from a decision of the Supreme Judicial Court for the County of Suffolk, the defendant was a man who was indicted on a charge of trafficking cocaine in violation of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 94C, § 32E(b) after police found cocaine and cash in a crawlspace located inside his residence. This evidence was found during a warrantless search, to which the defendant consented after police obtained his location through use of the defendant’s cell site location information. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the cocaine and cash on the grounds that they had been the fruit of an illegal search and seizure.

The superior court judge in the case held that the cocaine and cash had to be suppressed as the fruits of unlawful police tracking of a cellular telephone through which the defendant’s cell site location was obtained without police obtaining a search warrant based on probable cause. After review by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

Decision of the Supreme Judicial Court

The state’s highest court affirmed the order of the superior court judge granting the defendant’s motion to suppress. According to the court, the evidence had to be suppressed as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” because police had effectively monitored the movement of a vehicle in which the defendant was a passenger. The court found that, under the circumstances, it was irrelevant whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the crawlspace where the evidence in question was found.

In so holding, the court made a specific finding that the defendant’s consent to the search did not remove the seizure of the evidence from the taint of the illegal cell site location information search because the defendant’s consent was obtained through the use of information obtained from that search.

Schedule a Consultation with a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are facing criminal prosecution for a misdemeanor or felony offense, you need to talk to an attorney who can help protect your legal rights as you forward towards trial. The law is always evolving in this area, and it pays to consult an attorney who stays abreast of the latest developments. For an appointment with one of the experienced Cape Cod criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, call us at 888-262-6664. We handle many types of criminal cases, including operating a vehicle while under the influence (OUI) of drugs or alcohol.