Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules Illegal Police Entry into Apartment Does Not Require Suppression of Cocaine

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today ruled that cocaine seized from a defendant’s apartment was admissible at trial, despite the police officers’ illegal entry into his apartment.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Komnenus

The defendant was convicted in Middlesex Superior Court of trafficking in cocaine.  In August of 2011, an Everett police detective received information from another officer that the defendant had sold cocaine out of his apartment during the prior 30 minutes.  The Everett detective ran the defendant’s record and found a long history of criminal activity, along with a prior federal conviction for cocaine trafficking.

Several officers went to the defendant’s apartment and knocked on his door.  One of the officers lied to him and said his car had been in an accident.  The officer asked the defendant to accompany him to the sidewalk next to the apartment complex.  When they got to the sidewalk, the detective approached and told the defendant that his car was not involved in an accident, but his apartment was the subject of an illegal narcotics investigation.  The police read the defendant his Miranda rights and told him he could stay or leave, but they were going to secure his apartment and obtain a search warrant.  Four or five officers then went into the defendant’s apartment and the defendant decided to join them.  The officers quickly looked inside of the apartment to ensure nobody else was home.  The defendant sat at his kitchen table and listened as the detective called another officer in anticipation of applying for a search warrant.  The defendant then blurted out that he had “some stuff” in his apartment because he and his girlfriend sometimes used cocaine together.  The defendant led the officers to a small box located in the apartment that contained trafficking weight of crack cocaine.  The police also recovered paraphernalia that suggested the defendant was a drug dealer.

The defendant moved to suppress the cocaine, arguing that the police had illegally entered and searched his apartment.  A superior court judge denied the defendant’s motion and the Appeals Court upheld her decision.

The Appeals Court first ruled that the police officers’ warrantless entry into the defendant’s apartment was illegal.  The superior court judge concluded that the defendant consented to the police entry, but the Appeals Court disagreed, holding that the defendant has simply acquiesced to police authority.  However, the Appeals Court ruled that the illegal entry, followed by the police looking in the various rooms of the apartment, did not yield any contraband.  The defendant argued that the subsequent discovery of the drugs by the police (aided by the defendant’s confession) was “fruit of the poisonous tree,” and that the police never would have discovered the evidence were it not for their illegal actions.  The Appeals Court rejected the defendant’s argument, ruling that an independent event (the defendant’s statement) caused the discovery of the drugs, and not the illegal entry.  Because of this “intervening circumstance,” the evidence was properly admitted and the defendant was properly convicted.

This case reinforces the general rule that nobody being investigated for a crime should ever make a statement to the police.  The defendant’s statement in this case nullified the illegal police conduct and led to his conviction.