A recent decision was made in a case that arose when a report of a “skunky” and “minty” smell like drugs emanating from an individual’s apartment was made by one of the individual’s neighbors. While the neighbor claimed to have slept elsewhere to avoid the smell emanating from the apartment and experienced a headache, the neighbor had noticed the defendant leave the apartment in fine health. The neighbor also claimed that the fumes in question were adversely affecting her dog, that the windows of the neighbor’s apartments were “sealed”, and that a bright line shone in one of the defendant’s apartment’s rooms.
Law enforcement proceeded to investigate the case and at the beginning of March was decided to have unlawfully performed a search of the individual’s apartment without first obtaining a search warrant.
Although the smell in question was unpleasant, there is not any evidence present suggesting that the smell was dangerous in nature and presented a risk for the building’s occupants.
There was also no indication that the smell had increased or that any particular illnesses or negative health conditions had been caused by the smell.
Additionally, there was also no definitive evidence that the defendant's girlfriend was in the apartment and instead this perspective was made based on speculation because the defendant and his girlfriend typically left the apartment together in the morning.
Law enforcement also made no effort to contact the defendant’s girlfriend’s employer or family and made only a few efforts to contact the girlfriend by cellular phone.
Instead, law enforcement proceed to wait two days and then make two warrantless entries into the individual’s apartment.
These searches were made because the building owner’s son led law enforcement to the door of the defendant’s apartment. Inside the apartment, law enforcement searched each room. Law enforcement then contacted the fire department as well as more law enforcement that was specifically trained in cases involving methamphetamine laboratories.
Law enforcement in protective gear proceeded to enter the defendant’s apartment again and found no evidence of an immediate risk of danger.
After observing paraphernalia related to the manufacture of crystal methamphetamine inside the defendant’s apartment, law enforcement obtained a warrant to search the individual’s apartment. Law enforcement then blocked off all access points on the street adjacent to the apartment and proceeded to remove items from the house.
The defendant eventually returned to the apartment and attempted to enter the defendant’s residence. During this period of time, the defendant conversed with a law enforcement officer who explained the investigation and the role of search warrants.
The defendant was then arrested by law enforcement and charged with several offenses including drug related offenses. On being taken to the local police station, the defendant made several incriminating statements,
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of rights, requires that a search of an individual’s home must be reasonable. Unless one of a narrow group of exceptions fits, a warrantless search of an individual’s home is considered to be unreasonable. One exception is when an emergency situation exists. To satisfy an emergency exception, there must be reasonable grounds to believe that an emergency exists and law enforcement’s conduct must be reasonable under the circumstances.
Attorney Fasoldt researched the issues, drafted the briefs and argued the Motion to Suppress in front of the Superior Court Judge. This Motion included both an effort to suppress evidence that was seized after law enforcement obtained a search warrant as well as another motion attempting to suppress statements that the defendant made to law enforcement after being arrested.
The prosecutor argued that the search was justified, due to the danger that fumes from the drugs created for both residents in the building and the defendant’s girlfriend who was at risk of entering the apartment. Local detectives responded to the situation by arguing that methamphetamine laboratories are inherently dangerous due to being extremely explosive and toxic.
The defendant’s counsel, however, argued that prior to entry into the apartment there was no reasonable basis upon which law enforcement could conclude there was an imminent threat of either death or serious injury presented to the building occupants. The defendant’s motion argued that law enforcement lacked a reasonable basis to believe that the apartment contained a methamphetamine laboratory as well as that the girlfriend who resided in the apartment was in danger of imminent harm due to the presence of the laboratory.
The Superior Court subsequently moved to suppress evidence obtained during two warrantless entries by law enforcement into the defendant’s address and affirmed a suppression motion that argued the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement did not apply.
The court’s decision was based on the opinion that the circumstances in this case do not meet the standards of other cases in which courts have interpreted an reasonable basis existed to justify an emergency search by law enforcement without a warrant.
Neither the unpleasant smell or discomfort experienced by the neighbor, the court found, satisfied an emergency situation. Situations that did satisfy the emergency situation included when large quantities of volatile and explosive liquids were contained in a defendant’s apartment and when explosive levels of natural gas filled a defendant’s home.
The court’s opinion also found that the second warrantless entry was not justified by the first warrantless search which did not reasonably support the conclusion that methamphetamine was being produced in the apartment or that an emergency situation existed.
The court lastly found that even though the defendant was read Miranda rights and there was no law enforcement misconduct during the interview, the defendant made the incriminating statements twenty-one hours after arrest and had been in constant law enforcement custody since the initial arrest. As a result, the court found that the defendant’s statements in questions were the direct result of an unlawful search.
Attorney Henry Fasoldt helps individuals fight warrantless searches and other law enforcement investigations. If you find yourself involved in such a situation, do not hesitate to contact attorney Fasoldt today.