Commonwealth v. Loadholt, SJC-10461 (Mass. 3/31/2010), SJC-10461.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtSpina
Docket NumberSJC-10461.
Decision Date31 March 2010

Page 1

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.
November 5, 2009.
March 31, 2010.

Firearms. Name. False Impersonation & Identity Fraud. Constitutional Law, Voluntariness of statement, Search and seizure, Right to bear arms, Confrontation of witnesses, Harmless error. Search and Seizure, Exigent circumstances, Fruits of illegal search, Consent. Practice, Criminal, Motion to suppress, Voluntariness of statement, Sentence, Required finding, Confrontation of witnesses, Harmless error. Evidence, Voluntariness of statement, Firearm, Ballistician's certificate. Error, Harmless.

INDICTMENTS found and returned in the Superior Court Department on June 1, 2006.

A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Constance M. Sweeney, J., and the cases were tried before her.

The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

Richard B. Klibaner for the defendant.

Dianne M. Dillon, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Present: Marshall, C.J., Ireland, Spina, Cowin, Cordy, Botsford, & Gants, JJ.


The defendant, Jason Loadholt, was indicted on three charges of unlawful possession of a firearm or ammunition without a firearm identification card, G.L. c. 269, § 10 (h), after having been convicted previously of two violent crimes, G.L. c. 269, § 10G (b); one charge of unlawful possession of a loaded firearm, G.L. c. 269, § 10 (n); and one charge of furnishing a false name to a law enforcement officer, G.L. c. 268, § 34A. He filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from the apartment in which he was arrested, as well as statements made to police while he was in custody. After an evidentiary hearing, a judge in the Superior Court denied the motion, and the matter proceeded to trial. The trial was bifurcated, such that the portions of the first three indictments that related to the defendant's prior violent crime convictions (the enhanced sentence portions) were not initially submitted to the jury. The defendant moved for required findings of not guilty at the close of the Commonwealth's evidence and again at the conclusion of all the evidence. The motions were denied. The jury found the defendant guilty on each indictment. He then waived his right to a jury trial on the enhanced sentence portions of the first three indictments and pleaded guilty to so much of each as alleged one prior violent crime.1

The defendant appealed, and we transferred the case to this court on our own motion. On appeal, he argues that (1) the judge erred in denying his motion to suppress; (2) he was improperly sentenced pursuant to G.L. c. 269, § 10 (n); (3) the judge erred in denying his motions for a required finding of not guilty on the charge of furnishing a false name to a law enforcement officer and in instructing the jury on that charge; (4) his prosecution for unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition under G.L. c. 269, § 10 (h), violated his right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution; and (5) the admission of State police documents violated his right to confrontation as set forth in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S.Ct. 2527 (2009) (Melendez-Diaz). For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

1. Background.

We summarize the facts found by the judge at the hearing on the motion to suppress, which we have supplemented with other uncontested testimony from that hearing.2 See Commonwealth v. Gomes, 453 Mass. 506, 507 (2009). We reserve discussion of additional facts presented at trial for consideration in connection with the defendant's trial-related claims.

At approximately 7:45 A.M. on April 25, 2006, State Trooper Michael Sullivan and seven other law enforcement officers went to apartment A of 149 Allen Street in Springfield for the purpose of serving three arrest warrants on the defendant. The warrants were in the name of "Antonio Flowers," an alias used by the defendant.3 One warrant, issued from the Superior Court, was for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon (a firearm); the other two warrants, issued from the District Court, were for motor vehicle offenses. Trooper Sullivan and three officers went to the front door of the apartment, two officers positioned themselves at the back door, and two officers remained outside the building.

State Trooper Kevin O'Toole knocked on the apartment door, announced, "Police," and heard agitated noise from inside. A female occupant asked, through the door, what the police wanted. O'Toole responded that they had arrest warrants for the defendant. After several minutes, Lawanda Hill opened the door of the apartment and looked at the warrants. She was holding a small child, appeared very upset and nervous, and denied that anyone else was in the apartment. Trooper O'Toole thought that the defendant was inside based on the voices and other noise that the officers heard through the door when they first arrived, and based on their observation of a pair of men's athletic shoes near the back door. O'Toole attempted to calm Hill, repeated the reason why the officers were there, and again showed her the warrants. In response to a request to enter, Hill told O'Toole that the officers could come in and look for the defendant, but that she wanted to leave the premises. O'Toole requested that she stay in the apartment.

Given the defendant's history with firearms, the officers searched the apartment with their guns drawn. Within a few moments, the defendant was found hiding in the closet of a child's bedroom. After he was removed from the closet, the defendant was placed in handcuffs; Trooper O'Toole frisked him and found a live round of hollow point ammunition in the defendant's left front pants pocket. Trooper Sullivan immediately asked him, "Where's the gun?" At this juncture, the entire apartment had not yet been searched. The defendant said that there was a gun wrapped in a blue shirt in the closet of the master bedroom; Sullivan retrieved a loaded firearm. O'Toole then brought the defendant into the living room area and gave him Miranda warnings, the first and only time such warnings were administered.4 After he did so, the defendant explained that the gun belonged to him and that Hill had nothing to do with it. Law enforcement officers proceeded to take the defendant to a cruiser for transportation to police headquarters.

Trooper O'Toole then sat down with Hill and informed her that the officers wanted to search the apartment thoroughly for weapons. He further told her that the police believed that the firearm did not belong to her, and that they were concerned about the safety of her child. O'Toole explained to Hill that she did not have to give her consent to a search, and that the police could apply for a search warrant. Hill asked if she could telephone her mother, which she was permitted to do, and Hill's mother came over to the apartment. The two discussed the matter, and, thereafter, Hill signed a "consent to search" form. No other weapons were found in the apartment.5 Hill informed O'Toole that she was the only tenant and that she lived in the apartment with her child.

In her oral findings, the judge stated that the testimony given by three police officers, and particularly by Troopers Sullivan and O'Toole, was consistent and credible. Conversely, she found Hill's testimony completely incredible. The judge further found that, without question, Hill gave the officers specific permission to search her apartment. The judge stated in her written findings that when the officers found the defendant hiding in a closet with a bullet in his pocket, the officers were faced with an immediate and serious physical threat to all persons in the apartment. Given that the defendant was wanted for a violent offense and had a history of illegal firearm use, the judge continued, the police acted well within their rights and responsibilities when they demanded to know where the gun was located, even though the defendant had not yet received Miranda warnings. The judge opined that once the defendant informed the officers that there was a gun present, the officers had to seize it immediately, regardless of any consent issues. Finally, the judge found that after the defendant was given Miranda warnings, he was not interrogated; rather, his statement to the officers that Hill was not involved with the gun was a voluntary and spontaneous remark. See note 7, infra.

2. Motion to suppress.

When reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress, we accept the judge's findings of fact and will not disturb them absent clear error. See Commonwealth v. Gomes, 453 Mass. 506, 508-509 (2009); Commonwealth v. Jones, 375 Mass. 349, 354 (1978). We make an independent determination as to the correctness of the judge's application of constitutional principles to the facts as found. See Commonwealth v. Mercado, 422 Mass. 367, 369 (1996). Questions of credibility are the province of the motion judge who had the opportunity to observe the witnesses. See Commonwealth v. Martin, 447 Mass. 274, 280 (2006).

a. Statements made to police.

The defendant first contends that his initial interrogation by the police, during which he revealed the location of the firearm, occurred while he was in custody and before he was given Miranda warnings. As such, he continues, the statement should have been suppressed because it was obtained in violation of his rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. In the defendant's view, the "public safety" exception to Miranda warnings articulated in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984) (Quarles), is not applicable to the factual circumstances of this case. We disagree.

The Fifth Amendment guarantees that "[n]o person ... shall be...

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