When can police enter a residence to execute an arrest warrant?

Posted On: Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On January 14, 2014, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided a case involving the question of whether officers had satisfied the “reasonable belief” requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights sufficient to permit the entry into evidence of stolen property found at the defendant’s residence.

The defendant was convicted of receiving stolen property and appealed on the basis of the trial judge’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence he claimed the police obtained as a result of an unconstitutional entry.  The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the conviction, ruling that the evidence should have been suppressed.

The law requires that police who enter an individual’s residence to execute an arrest warrant “have a reasonable belief that the location to be searched is the arrestee’s residence, and a reasonable belief that the arrestee is in his residence at the time the arrest warrant is executed.”  Commonwealth v. Silva, 440 Mass. 772, 778 (2004). The Court in Silva held that the “reasonable belief” standard is “less exacting than probable cause.”  Where the police have a reasonable belief that the subject of an arrest warrant resides in the home and is present in the home, the arrest warrant alone is enough to justify the search of the subject’s home for the purpose of arresting him.

The Court decided yesterday that  a “reasonable belief” requires more than was known here at the time of entry, since the officer did not know that the defendant was home.  Therefore, the entry was unconstitutional under both the Fourth Amendment and Art. 14, and the observation and subsequent seizure of the stolen property allegedly received by the defendant in this case should have been suppressed as a fruit of the illegal entry.

Commonwealth v. Gentile, SJC-11372, Worcester, January 14, 2014.

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-Rhonda S. Boulé