Article Preview: Letting the Exception Swallow the Rule

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article Fourteen of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights protect criminal defendants from unreasonable searches and seizures. To protect these rights, police officers are generally required to obtain an arrest warrant before a suspect can be arrested or a search warrant before a suspect or his property can be searched. One of the most highly protected areas under the Fourth Amendment is an individual’s home, and courts are extra cautious to ensure an individual’s rights are not infringed upon in his or her home.

Two seminal Supreme Court decisions discuss the warrant requirements to arrest suspects in private dwellings. In New York v. Payton, the Supreme Court ruled that police can lawfully enter a suspect’s home with a valid arrest warrant and a reasonable belief that the suspect is inside. A later case, Steagald v. United States, held that the rule in Payton did not extend to the homes of third parties and held a search warrant, in addition to the arrest warrant, is necessary to enter a third party’s home. What did not appear to be answered was who has standing to challenge such a violation.

In his Comment “Letting the Exception Swallow the Rule: The SJC’s Missed Opportunity in Commonwealth v. Tatum,” Charles Basler discusses the recent Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court decision in Commonwealth v. Tatum. Tatum extended Payton to third-party homes, ruling that only the third party whose home was searched has standing to challenge the illegal search. In Tatum, police officers were armed with arrest warrants for the defendant, but no search warrant. A police officer, acting on a tip that the defendant was in a third party’s home, entered without a search warrant disguised as a utility worker to confirm the defendant’s presence. When the defendant’s presence was confirmed, the police obtained a search warrant and executed it on the third party’s home, finding drugs and other evidence.

The SJC ruled that the defendant did not have standing to challenge the police officers’ actions—only the third party homeowner has such standing. The reasoning was based on Payton and the Court ruled that because the police had an arrest warrant for him, the defendant had no standing to object. The SJC also noted that an arrest warrant by itself is sufficient to enter the defendant’s home, so he should not be provided more rights to object in a third party’s home.

Basler’s Comment focuses on the Supreme Court and the SJC’s prior precedent of the Fourth Amendment and Article XIV rights and how this decision is inconsistent with the prior rulings. Basler argues that the SJC’s decision to extend Payton to third party homes contravenes precedent giving overnight guests standing to challenge illegal search warrants of third-party homes. Basler continues by arguing that Payton is limited to police entering the home of the intended arrestee. Allowing police to enter the home of a third party to arrest a suspect interprets Payton too broadly and directly impermissible under Steagald. Furthermore, Basler agrees with the dissent that such a rule could have dire consequences in the future. This ruling appears to give police officers the ability to search a third-party home without a search warrant. These actions will go unpunished as long as the third-party homeowner is not charged. An individual’s home is supposed to be his most protected piece of property; thus, we have a search and arrest warrant requirement. According to Basler, Payton was supposed to carve out a small exception to the search warrant requirement. However, the SJC broadened this exception in Tatum and is taking away the constitutional rights of Massachusetts’ citizens.

The full article will be published in Volume 49, Issue 1 of the New England Law Review, due to be published in early Spring.

Contributing Editor: Matthew Ezepek

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