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How reasonable must "reasonable suspicion" to enter a home be?

Under both federal and Massachusetts law, individuals have a right against unreasonable searches.
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    February 26, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- How reasonable must "reasonable suspicion" to enter a home be?

Article provided by The Law Office of James M. Caramanica
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Under both federal and Massachusetts law, individuals have a right against unreasonable searches. This is especially true when the area to be searched is the home; courts have long held that an individual's home is particularly sacrosanct. In the Massachusetts Supreme Court's words, "In the home, ... all details are intimate details, because the entire area is held safe from prying government eyes" (emphasis in original).

This applies even where someone has been accused of a crime and police have an arrest warrant. Even with warrant in hand, the police may only enter a home without permission if they have a reasonable suspicion that (a) the suspect resides in that place, and (b) the suspect is actually present at the time police are entering. In 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Court noted that "reasonable suspicion" means less than "probable cause." The question was left open, however, as to how much less.

That was the question in a case the Massachusetts Supreme Court recently decided in Commonwealth v. Gentile, the ruling for which was handed down on January 14, 2014. In this case, a State Police trooper came across the defendant in an unrelated manner, and learned of his address. A few days later, the trooper learned that the defendant had two arrest warrants currently issued for him. After verifying the defendant's address via the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the trooper and another officer went to that address to detain the defendant. When the officers knocked on the door, a teenage girl answered and was soon joined by her mother. The girl's mother told police that the defendant was not there. The trooper concluded, based on the mother's seeming nervousness, that she was lying. He also told the court that he heard some unspecified "movement" elsewhere in the apartment. Police entered the home and found the defendant in a bedroom, where he was arrested.

There was no doubt that the defendant resided at that particular address. The issue before the court, then, was whether the police had a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was actually present at the time that they entered. The conclusion of the Massachusetts Supreme Court was that they did not.

The court reached its conclusion based on the fact that the trooper's conclusion that the mother was lying was based on his hunch rather than the mother having said anything objectively untrue or contradictory. The court noted that it was late morning, so the defendant could easily have been at work, and that no surveillance had been done to verify that the defendant was actually physically present. In addition, the sound of "movement" described by the trooper only demonstrated that someone else was home, not that it was the defendant specifically. Police could not say that they knew that three people were in the home, for example, so the fact that someone else may have been inside was not enough on its own to create a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was home. This was especially true given the particularly special place the home holds in American law as a place that should be free as much as possible from government intrusion.

Understanding your rights when you're accused of a crime is of the utmost importance. If you have had any run-ins with police or the criminal justice system, the proper advice and guidance is extremely valuable. If you find yourself in such a situation, you should contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.

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