Commonwealth v. Mauricio, SJC-12254

Citation477 Mass. 588,80 N.E.3d 318
Decision Date14 August 2017
Docket NumberSJC-12254
Parties COMMONWEALTH v. Kevin A. MAURICIO.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Mathew B. Zindroski for the defendant.

Stephen C. Nadeau, Jr., Assistant District Attorney (Shawn Guilderson, Assistant District Attorney, also present) for the Commonwealth.

Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, & Cypher, JJ.

HINES, J.

After a jury trial in the Taunton Division of the District Court Department, the defendant, Kevin A. Mauricio, was convicted of carrying a firearm without a license, in violation of G.L.c. 269, § 10 (a ) ; and receiving stolen property with a value in excess of $250, in violation of G.L.c. 266, § 60. The charges stem from a search of the defendant's backpack after he was arrested for possession of a controlled substance and breaking and entering a residence in Taunton. During the course of the search, the police discovered a digital camera, a ring, and other items. The firearm conviction was based on images retrieved after a warrantless search of the digital camera. The images depicted the defendant next to firearms later determined to have been stolen. The receiving stolen property conviction was based on the ring discovered in the defendant's backpack.

The defendant appealed from the convictions, arguing that the judge erred in denying the motion to suppress the images discovered as the result of the warrantless search of the digital camera, and that the evidence offered at trial was insufficient to sustain the conviction of receiving stolen property with a value in excess of $250. We granted the defendant's application for direct appellate review, and conclude that the warrantless search of the digital camera constituted neither a valid search incident to arrest nor a valid inventory search. Accordingly, the images discovered in the unlawful search should have been suppressed. We conclude further that, although the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction of receiving stolen property with a value in excess of $250, a conviction of the lesser included offense must stand.

Background . We summarize the judge's findings of fact on the motion to suppress the images, supplementing where appropriate with uncontroverted testimony from the suppression hearing. Commonwealth v. Melo , 472 Mass. 278, 286, 34 N.E.3d 289 (2015). We reserve for later the recitation of the facts germane to the defendant's argument that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain the conviction of receiving stolen property.

On May 28, 2014, Taunton police Officer Brett Collins received a report that two "suspicious parties" were seen running out of the side door of a residence on Downing Drive in Taunton. According to the neighbor who called in the report, one of the individuals was a man wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and red gloves and carrying a backpack. The second person, a female, was wearing a gray sweatshirt.

Shortly thereafter, Collins located two individuals nearby largely matching the neighbor's descriptions. The man was identified as the defendant. Following a brief conversation, Collins pat frisked the defendant and searched his backpack. Inside the backpack, Collins found various items, including the digital camera at issue, jewelry, hypodermic needles, prescription medications, and coins. Collins then drove the defendant back to Downing Drive, where the neighbor who made the report identified the defendant as the man he saw running from another residence on the street. The police arrested the defendant.

At the police station, Detective Dora Treacy, the evidence officer for the Taunton police department, conducted an inventory search of the defendant's backpack. Believing the camera to have been stolen, Treacy, in the course of her inventory search, turned the camera on and viewed the digital images it contained in the hope of identifying its "true" owner. In doing so, Treacy came across an image of a man with firearms. Because Treacy knew a fellow detective, Michael Bonenfant, had been investigating a housebreak on Plain Street in Taunton where two firearms and jewelry had been reported stolen, Treacy showed Bonenfant the digital images.

Bonenfant, suspecting that the firearms in the digital images matched the firearms stolen from the Plain Street residence, contacted the homeowner and showed him a printed photograph of one of the digital images. After viewing the photograph, the homeowner confirmed that the firearms and the other items in the photograph were taken from his home during the break-in.

Discussion . 1. Motion to suppress . The defendant filed two motions to suppress, both of which were ultimately denied. In his first motion, the defendant sought to suppress "all physical evidence and any alleged statements obtained by law enforcement authorities as a result of a search and seizure by the Taunton [p]olice [d]epartment." Initially, the motion judge, who also decided the defendant's subsequent motion to suppress, granted the defendant's motion, concluding that the backpack search constituted neither a valid search incident to arrest nor a valid patfrisk for weapons. The judge explained that, at the time of the search, the defendant was "detained upon specific articulable facts that he might be responsible for a housebreak," but that the defendant was not under arrest and, therefore, the search of the backpack by Collins could not be justified as a search incident to arrest. Nor could it be justified as part of a patfrisk for weapons, because Collins lacked specific facts warranting a reasonable person to believe that he was in danger. Based on these conclusions, the judge granted the defendant's first motion to suppress.

Thereafter, the Commonwealth filed a motion for reconsideration of the judge's ruling on this first motion to suppress, arguing that because the contents of the backpack would have been discovered during a later search incident to arrest, they are admissible under the "inevitable discovery" exception to the exclusionary rule. Persuaded by the Commonwealth's argument, the motion judge granted the motion for reconsideration and denied the motion to suppress. Accordingly, the Commonwealth could introduce all the items in the backpack at trial. Because this ruling did not specifically address the search of the digital camera, the defendant filed a second motion to suppress focusing exclusively on that issue. The judge denied the motion on the ground that the viewing of the digital images was part of a valid inventory search.

On appeal, the defendant argues that the judge wrongly denied the motion to suppress the images recovered from the warrantless search of the digital camera because the search did not fall within the purview of the search incident to arrest exception to the warrant requirement and exceeded the scope of a valid inventory search. We agree.

a. Standard of review . In evaluating the grant or denial of a motion to suppress, "we accept the judge's subsidiary findings of fact absent clear error and leave to the judge the responsibility of determining the weight and credibility to be given oral testimony presented at the motion hearing." Commonwealth v. Wilson , 441 Mass. 390, 393, 805 N.E.2d 968 (2004). However, "[w]e review independently the application of constitutional principles to the facts found." Id . Our inquiry, therefore, is whether the search of the digital camera was proper on either of the grounds on which the judge relied in denying the motion to suppress.

b. Search incident to arrest . The judge denied the defendant's first motion to suppress the search of his backpack, agreeing with the Commonwealth's position on the motion for reconsideration that the items in the backpack inevitably would have been discovered as part of a search incident to a lawful arrest for breaking and entering. On appeal, the defendant does not challenge the search of the backpack. Instead, he argues that the search of the digital camera cannot be justified on this ground. Specifically, the defendant argues that the principles underlying Riley v. California , ––– U.S. ––––, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 189 L.Ed.2d 430 (2014), which foreclosed the application of the search incident to arrest exception to cellular telephones (cell phones), also forecloses the application of this exception to warrantless searches of digital cameras under both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The Commonwealth counters that Riley does not apply because digital cameras, lacking the ability to function as computers, are not analogous to cell phones for Fourth Amendment purposes. We decline to address the constitutionality of the search of the digital camera on Fourth Amendment grounds, but we apply the reasoning in Riley in holding that the search of the camera violated art. 14.

A search incident to a custodial arrest is well established as an exception to the warrant requirement under both the Fourth Amendment and art. 14. See United States v. Edwards , 415 U.S. 800, 802, 94 S.Ct. 1234, 39 L.Ed.2d 771 (1974), and cases cited; Commonwealth v. Santiago , 410 Mass. 737, 742-743, 575 N.E.2d 350 (1991), and cases cited. Under both Fourth Amendment and art. 14 jurisprudence, the purpose of the search incident to arrest exception is twofold: (1) to prevent the destruction or concealing of evidence of the crime for which the police have probable cause to arrest; and (2) to strip the arrestee of weapons that could be used to resist arrest or facilitate escape. See Chimel v. California , 395 U.S. 752, 762-763, 89 S.Ct. 2034, 23 L.Ed.2d 685 (1969) ; Santiago , supra at 743, 575 N.E.2d 350.

In recent years, the United States Supreme Court has grappled with defining the contours of the search incident to arrest exception in our increasingly digital world. In Riley , 134 S.Ct. at 2494, the Supreme Court addressed whether the search incident...

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