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Commonwealth v. Pearson

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk

September 20, 2016


          Heard: June 7, 2016.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on April 12, 2012.

         A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Kenneth J. Fishman, J., and the cases were tried before Raymond J. Brassard, J.

          Edward Crane for the defendant.

          Pamela Alford, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Cypher, Grainger, & Kinder, JJ.

          CYPHER, J.

         A jury convicted the defendant, Washington Pearson, of four counts of breaking and entering in violation of G. L. c. 266, § 18, and four counts of larceny over $250 in violation of G. L. c. 266, § 30(1). On appeal, he argues that the motion judge erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant obtained following a warrantless arrest. We find no error by the motion judge.

         Following a pretrial hearing, the motion judge determined that warrants did not validly issue for the arrest of Jenell Johnson and the defendant in their apartment and, consequently, he allowed their motions to suppress statements made at the time of the arrests.[1], [2] He concluded, however, that evidence seized pursuant to the subsequently secured search warrant was untainted by the initial illegality and therefore admissible. The defendant claims that his motion to suppress should have been allowed in full because the search warrant was tainted by his prior unlawful arrest, and therefore could not constitute a genuinely independent source for the challenged evidence.

         "In reviewing a decision on a motion to suppress, 'we accept the judge's subsidiary findings of fact absent clear error but conduct an independent review of his ultimate findings and conclusions of law.'" Commonwealth v. Keefner, 461 Mass. 507, 515 (2012), quoting from Commonwealth v. Scott, 440 Mass. 642, 646 (2004). "We make an independent determination of the correctness of the judge's application of constitutional principles." Commonwealth v. Cassino, 474 Mass. 85, 88 (2016) (quotation omitted).

         We recite the facts found by the motion judge after an evidentiary hearing, and supplement where necessary with undisputed testimony implicitly credited by the judge. Commonwealth v. Oliveira, 474 Mass. 10, 11 (2016) . Between January 31, 2012, and February 8, 2012, Brookline police responded to five incidents of residential breaking and entering. Victims reported missing various valuable items, including jewelry, electronics, and credit cards. On February 6, 2012, one victim reported that a credit card reported stolen from his apartment had been fraudulently used at four local retail stores. Surveillance footage from three of the stores depicted a Hispanic female in her mid-to-late thirties, wearing blue jeans, a white fleece jacket, and a hat, making the fraudulent purchases. Surveillance footage from a fourth store depicted a woman with similar appearance, but wearing a white coat and black boots that matched the description of items previously purchased using the stolen credit card. An employee at one of the stores told police that the woman had been accompanied by a dark-skinned black male, estimated to be in his mid-to-late thirties.

         On February 7, 2012, Brookline police received information about a breaking and entering at a Cambridge residence, where a driver's license belonging to Johnson was found. That victim told officers that she did not know Johnson. Based on the information on the driver's license, the police found booking photographs from a 2011 breaking and entering incident, for which Johnson and the defendant were both arrested while attempting to flee in the defendant's vehicle. The police determined that the booking photographs of Johnson and the defendant matched the physical characteristics of the suspects depicted in the surveillance footage from the retail stores. When presented with a photographic array, an employee at one of the stores identified Johnson and the defendant as the customers who had made purchases using the stolen credit card.

         On February 9, 2012, police officers arrived at the apartment where Johnson and the defendant were living, purporting to have warrants for their arrest.[3] When Johnson answered the door, she was taken into custody and advised of her Miranda rights. The officers then asked her where they could locate some of the items allegedly purchased with the stolen credit card. She directed them to a bedroom on the second floor, where they observed items matching the description of fraudulently purchased merchandise and stolen goods in plain view. The officers asked Johnson, whom they had escorted to the second floor, for consent to search the apartment, which she declined to give, saying that it was not her house and things found there may not belong to her. The officers apprehended the defendant in the bathroom on the third floor.

         After Johnson and the defendant had been arrested and transported to police headquarters, police remained at the house to secure the premises while a search warrant was prepared.[4] While securing the premises, police officers spoke with the owner of the house, who identified himself as Johnson's stepfather and told the officers that the defendant had been staying in the residence for the past five or six weeks. The owner notified police that he had discovered a shopping bag containing silverware, jewelry bags, and a prescription bottle bearing the name of a victim of one of the burglaries, in a trash can outside the house.

         The defendant argues that the judge erroneously omitted the first of a two-step independent source inquiry mandated by Murrayv.United States, 487 U.S. 533 (1988), by failing to determine whether police officers' decision to seek the warrant was influenced ...

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