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Commonwealth v. Mauricio

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Bristol

August 14, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
KEVIN A. MAURICIO.

          Heard: April 4, 2017.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Taunton Division of the District Court Department on July 10, 2014. A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Thomas L. Finigan, J., and the case was tried before him.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          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 (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 ...


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