The following case elaborated on a recent case cited below in establshing the boundaries and rules relating to warrantless, search and seizure, during police arrest, established some guidelines.
Constitution Upheld in Search and Seizure Case.
The Appeals Court (Massachusetts) has upheld the Constitution by reversing a judgment denying a motion to suppress evidence “one set of keys” and a bag of cocaine taken from the vehicle which was opened by the keys. Prosecution not entitled to “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
Men had been arrested by troopers for violation of a City ordinance, namely “Drinking in Public.”
The police arrested the owner of the keys, searched his vehicle, and found a plastic bag containing cocaine. The vehicle had nothing to do with the arrest and the troopers who arrested the defendant outnumbered the public drinkers, and no aggressive gestures or conduct or any sort of threat by the drinkers was involved. The keys were not contraband and the court stated that the Commonwealth’s argument that the trial judge was correct as being incidental to the arrest to ensure safety of the police was without support. The judge made no such findings and there was no evidence in the suppression hearing to support such conclusion.
The judge rested his denial of the defendant’s suppression motion on the basis that the police need to establish the defendant’s identity. Court stated that it could not quarrel with the proposition that at the point when police with the defendant under arrest for the cocaine, they may have had a legitimate question concerning the identity. Citing the recent case of Com. v. Pacheco 51 Mass. App.Ct. at 742 in slightly different circumstances the court had held that questions to identity are ultimately to be resolved by pretrial motions or in connection with particular proceedings of law, such as arraignment ,and not by questionable police actions at the scene of the arrest which trench upon an individual’s right to be free from unreasonable and unjustified inquiries and intrusions. The Commonwealth argues that troopers had good reason to believe the defendant was concealing a crime due to his giving a false date of birth and that from this consciousness of guilt they could reasonably infer that the revelation of the defendant’s identity would lead to evidence of a crime such as his fugitive from justice status due to outstanding warrants (criminal). The Court called this reasoning by stating, “What Crime?” “Rather it is an inference conjured with the benefit of hindsight.”
The Court stated “ we stress that the police have available other less intrusive means, of ascertaining the identity of a person arrested.” The Court went on to state that it agreed with the defendant that were it not for the seizure of the keys, and the subsequent use by the trooper, which the court deemed improper and in violation of defendant’s Constitutional and statutory rights, troopers would not been in a position to observe the cocaine.; the observations were part of the entire fabric of unconstitutional investigatory search using the keys.
“What concerns us, as we observed in the Pacheco case…is that to uphold a search for identification in the circumstances presented here would be to sanction a principle having no apparent stopping place. The troopers apparently felt themselves at an impasse because they believed the defendant may have provided false information as to his identity, but they laced probable cause to go further. A further troublesome possibility is that the troopers may have roamed from vehicle to vehicle in the parking lot looking for a match, engaging in essentially a random search rather than a search based on probable cause. In the circumstances, the judge should have suppressed the keys as not being incident to the defendant’s arrest for drinking in public, and the cocaine as ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’ The order denying the motion to suppress is vacated, and new order is to enter allowing that motion”
Commonwealth v. Blevins