Last week members of the Quincy, Massachusetts Police Department received a utility shutoff notice for 228 Norfolk Street. Shortly after noon the officers arrived at the residence to serve the notice. A man, Hao Vu, answered the door and quickly left the home. Officers immediately noticed a strong odor of Marijuana. They also felt heat coming from the cellar. The article further states that the officers saw Marijuana Plants and heat lamps used to grow the drug. Based on these observations the police left the home to get a Search Warrant. During the execution of the Search Warrant eighty one Marijuana plants were found. Shortly thereafter Hao Vu was found along with his wife Annie Vu. Both Annie and Hao Vu have been charged with Trafficking Marijuana. The case is now pending in the Quincy District Court but will likely be prosecuted in the Norfolk County Superior Court in Dedham, Massachusetts.
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The first thing that catches my eye about this case is the actions of the police when they served the utility notice. While they may have smelled an overwhelming odor of Marijuana that in and of itself would not provide sufficient information for a magistrate or judge to issue a Search Warrant. I am sure what in fact prompted the issuance of the warrant was the observation of plants and grow lights. Yet how were the cops able to see these? Where is the basement door in relation to the front door? How big are the plants? The article also mentions that the officers felt heat when the door was opened. What was the heat bill this month compared to prior months?
Massachusetts case law makes clear that without a search warrant or exigent circumstances a search of someone’s property is illegal. Similarly, an illegal entry that results in observations that serve as a basis for probable cause in a search warrant affidavit requires suppression. As to challenges to search warrants, Massachusetts Appellate Courts have stated that the information obtained as a result of an unlawful entry must be excised from the search warrant affidavit. If, absent that information there still exists probable cause for the issuance of the warrant the search will stand. If not, suppression is ordered. In this case, depending on the content of the search warrant affidavit I can see several potential challenges to this search. The officers’ unlawful entry into the home, possibly dubious observations and uncorroborated suspicions might be applicable here.