COURT OF APPEALS REVERSES SUPPRESSION OF CONTENTS OF CELL PHONE WHERE DELAY IN OBTAINING WARRANT NOT UNREASONABLE

In Commonwealth v. Arthur, the Court of Appeals reversed the suppression of the contents of cell phones seized by the police, because the trial  judge erroneously ruled that “the police unreasonably delayed obtaining a warrant to search the contents of” the phones.

The basic ares were as follows. “The defendant and two accomplices,  Williams and Richardson,  participated in a coordinated attack on a home at 7 Morse Street in … Boston. Much of the attack was witnessed by various Boston police officers…. At approximately 4:30 p.m. two cars drove onto Brinsley Street, one street away from and parallel to the block of 7 Morse Street. The defendant was driving one of the cars and was alone. Williams was driving the other car, with Richardson in the front passenger seat. Both cars parked on Brinsley Street…. Shortly after parking, Williams and Richardson got out of their car …and walked briskly … in the direction of Morse Street…. As they approached] Morse Street, the defendant got out of his car … and began peering through the yards toward the area of 7 Morse Street ‘as if he was waiting to see something occur.’ Shortly thereafter, shots were heard coming from Morse Street. Williams and Richardson then were observed running down Morse Street, with Williams holding a gun in his hand…. Williams ran to Brinsley Street and, after discarding his firearm, got into the passenger seat of the defendant’s car. The defendant had, by this time, returned to his car, but before he could drive away with Williams they were stopped and arrested by the police. Later, the police confirmed that multiple bullets had been fired into the home at 7 Morse Street…. An officer on the scene observed two cell phones in the defendant’s car — one on the driver’s seat and one on the front passenger’s seat. The officer observed three cell phones in the car initially driven by Williams — two on the driver’s seat and one in the passenger’s side door handle. The police impounded both cars. Three days later, they sought and received an initial warrant to search both cars and to seize all the cell phones…. The cell phones were seized and … were thereafter held as evidence. The Commonwealth did not seek to view the contents of the cell phones, however, until eighty-five days after the impoundment. On that day, the Commonwealth sought a second warrant, this time specifically requesting to search the ‘electronic data’ of each of the seized cell phones…. The second warrant was issued on the same day, and the cell phones were searched. Subsequently, the defendant was indicted for two counts of armed assault with intent to murder,” and related offenses. “The defendant … moved to suppress evidence found as a result of the search of the two cell phones found in his vehicle,” on the ground “that the eighty-five-day delay in seeking the second warrant rendered the search unreasonable.” The motion was allowed and  the Commonwealth appealed.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals that the crime “appeared to be a coordinated attack carried out using separate automobiles, where one could readily infer that the occupants had been in communication” using the multiple cell phones later found on the seats of the cars. The Court agreed with the Commonwealth “that on these facts the cell phones were ‘evidence of the crime independent of their content,’ and thus that they would be maintained as evidence for trial…. This evidentiary value existed regardless of whether, on further investigation, the cell phones might contain additional relevant evidence in their digital data. It follows that the delay in seeking the second warrant was not unreasonable here, because … the police were already lawfully in possession of the cell phones and would be through trial. There was thus no substantial interest under the Fourth Amendment … requiring that the search of the contents of the cell phones occur expeditiously.”

If your cell phone was searched without a warrant, contact our office at 508-944- 3397.

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