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Law School Case Brief

Commonwealth v. Porter P. - 456 Mass. 254, 923 N.E.2d 36 (2010)

Rule:

Under Mass. Const. Decl. Rights art. 14 a person may have actual authority to consent to a warrantless search of a home by the police only if (1) the person is a co-inhabitant with a shared right of access to the home, that is, the person lives in the home, either as a member of the family, a roommate, or a houseguest whose stay is of substantial duration and who is given full access to the home; or (2) the person, generally a landlord, shows the police a written contract entitling that person to allow the police to enter the home to search for and seize contraband or evidence. No such entitlement may reasonably be presumed by custom or oral agreement.

Facts:

Having been notified by a homeless shelter's director that Porter P., a juvenile, allegedly possessed a gun, police officers determined that the director had authority to consent to their entry and conducted a warrantless search of Porter's room. After the police found a gun, Porter made an unprompted inculpatory statement that suggested the gun belonged to him. The trial court allowed the juvenile’s motion to suppress the gun seized by the police and the statement that the juvenile made to the police after his arrest. The Appeals Court reversed.

Issue:

Did the director of a homeless shelter have the authority to consent the search making the same constitutional?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Judicial Court found, inter alia, that the search violated U.S. Const. amend. IV and Mass. Const. Decl. Rights art. 14. Although the room was a transitional living space, it was nonetheless the juvenile's home. Accordingly, he had a privacy interest in the room under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, § 1. Although the shelter's manual allowed shelter staff to enter the room, it did not permit shelter staff to allow the police to enter to search for and seize contraband or evidence. Therefore, the director did not have actual or apparent authority to consent to the search by the police. Accordingly, the seized gun and the juvenile's statement should have been suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree."

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