Massachusetts SJC Finds Affidavit Insufficient For Issuance Of Search Warrant

In a 4-2 decision the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a Superior Court judge’s decision to suppress a search made pursuant to a warrant. As a backdrop, the defendant in this case filed a motion to suppress cocaine, marijuana and drug related paraphernalia seized in his home during the execution of a search warrant. The search warrant was issued in reliance on a police officer’s affidavit. The affidavit stated:

1. That an informant told the officer that he had been buying cocaine from the defendant. The informant provided the defendant’s address. Police corroborated that this was the defendant’s address.
2. The informant told the officer that in order to buy drugs from the defendant he would call the defendant and arrange a location and time for the deal.
3. Using this information the officer set up a controlled buy. Surveillance watched the defendant leave his home and meet the informant at the predetermined location. Undercover officers witnessed the transaction.
4. The officer concluded that in his experience the defendant’s manner of operation was consistent with drug dealers’ tactics designed to evade law enforcement by changing times and delivery locations and that in these situations the drug dealers use their homes to store the narcotics.

Three days later the officer applied for and obtained the search warrant.

Citing earlier cases, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that when the target location of a search warrant “is a residence, there must be specific information in the affidavit, and reasonable inferences a magistrate may draw, to provide ‘a sufficient nexus between the defendant’s drug-selling activity and his residence to establish probable cause to search the residence.'” The Court continued that “Information establishing that a person is guilty of a crime does not necessarily constitute probable cause to search the person’s residence.” On these facts the Court concluded that there was no “particularized information based on police surveillance or otherwise, that would permit a reasonable inference that the defendant likely kept a supply of drugs in his apartment.” One single observation of the defendant driving from his home to the location of the drug deal was insufficient to establish probable cause in this case.

See Commonwealth v. Pina, Slip Opinion, SJC-10240 March 19, 2009.

A large majority of drug cases handled by criminal defense lawyers involve search and seizure issues. Motions to suppress can result in judges excluding evidence unlawfully seized by law enforcement officials. The result is often a dismissal of all charges in that the district attorney is unable to go forward without the items seized.

Stephen Neyman is a Massachusetts Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer who has successfully argued suppression issues throughout Massachusetts. If you have been charged with a drug crime call our office now at 617-263-6800 or contact us online.

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