The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed the convictions against a defendant who was arrested after police received information about his criminal activities from an unlikely source – his wife. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Abdul-Alim.
The defendant and his wife had been married for approximately two years and lived with their child in a Springfield apartment. When someone was murdered in the apartment building, the defendant and his wife were identified as possible witnesses. The wife met with a Springfield lieutenant during the police investigation into the murder. A few days later, the wife heard gunshots in her building and called the police. The wife disclosed that the defendant was a drug dealer and possessed a gun, and said she worried about her safety (and the safety of her child) by continuing to live with the defendant in the apartment. The wife was referred to a Springfield police officer named Ronald Sheehan, who also worked on the FBI joint counterterrorism task force. The wife told Sheehan the defendant obtained drugs from a white man who had tattoos on his hand and drove a white Jeep Cherokee. The wife also provided to Sheehan a photograph of the defendant’s gun (which the defendant was prohibited from possessing as a result of his prior convictions for drug trafficking and illegal possession of a gun). The wife and Sheehan met in person and spoke on the phone several times during the ensuing couple of weeks leading up to the defendant’s arrest.
In December of 2011, the wife called Sheehan and said the defendant was going to meet his drug supplier at a gas station next door to the apartment complex. Sheehan and other cops went to the gas station and saw a white Jeep Cherokee matching the description of the vehicle driven by the supplier. As Sheehan waited at the gas station, the wife called him and said the defendant had just left the apartment and was carrying his gun. Two cops grabbed the defendant as he left the apartment complex and conducted a patfrisk. A weapon was not located at that point, and the defendant was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser. The wife, who had watched her husband be taken into custody, called Sheehan and told him the defendant’s gun was hidden in his underwear. The defendant was removed from the cruiser and searched again. During this search, the police found the gun. He was charged with illegal possession of a gun and ammunition and was convicted by a superior court jury.
The defendant’s primary appellate argument was that the cops had illegally detained and searched him. Prior to his trial, he had filed a motion to suppress, which was denied by a superior court judge. The Appeals Court agreed the seizure and search of the defendant was proper. The defendant argued the information provided by his wife was unreliable. The Appeals Court noted that the cops knew the “informant” was married to the defendant, and she had met several times with the police and provided detailed information about the defendant’s crimes (and had even provided a picture of his gun). Under these circumstances, it was proper for the police to conclude the information provided about the defendant was reliable and could be used to detain and search him. The defendant also argued he should have been released after the cops did not find a gun during the initial patfrisk. The Appeals Court said even without immediately finding the gun, the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant for illegal possession of a firearm (based on the information provided by his wife).
It’s hard to imagine a more compelling informant than a suspect’s spouse. As a result of his wife’s reports of his criminal conduct, the defendant is now serving a 4-6 year state prison sentence.