4th Amendment, criminal law, Editor Blog, Fourth Amendment, Mass. Crim. Dig.

Mass. Crim. Dig.: Commonwealth v. Vacher

Contributing Editor: Catherine S. Flaherty

Commonwealth v. Vacher, 469 Mass. 425 (2014)

I. Facts

On December 16, 2008, sixteen year-old Jordan Mendes’s body was found burning in a pit in Hyannis. Mendes was stabbed in the neck and face twenty-one times, and was shot in the chest. The previous day, he went to his half-brother Charlie’s home on Arrowhead Drive after school. The defendant, Robert Vacher, was dropped off at Charlie’s home with Charlie and John R. around the same time as Jordan. That evening, Charlie arranged to test drive a black Nissan Maxima that a classmate was selling for $11,000. Charlie, John R., and the defendant test drove the vehicle and had it in their possession for approximately four hours, returning it at 8:00 p.m. At that time, Jordan’s friend Diana had expected to see him at the Arrowhead Drive house; he did not arrive, and she telephoned him throughout the night but was ultimately unable to reach him. The next morning, Diana drove Charlie and the defendant to a car dealership in Hyannis, where they purchased a silver BMW for $10,995 in cash. Charlie, John R., and the defendant were later seen at a gas station with the BMW and a red gasoline can. Jordan’s grandmother became concerned about his whereabouts because she had not seen him since the previous day. She and Jordan’s sister went to look for him, ultimately arriving at a place in the woods where Jordan and his sister often played as children. Jordan’s grandmother and sister noticed a fire burning in a pit, and found Jordan’s body at the bottom. A certified accelerant detection dog twice alerted to the presence of gasoline.

4th Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Mass. Crim. Dig.

Mass. Crim. Dig.: Commonwealth v. Duncan

Contributing Editor: Sean P. Murphy

Commonwealth v. Duncan, 467 Mass. 746 (2014)

I. Facts

On a “bleak, snowy, and freezing” January day, a neighbor went to retrieve a borrowed shovel from Heather Duncan’s residence; although no one was home and the gate was locked, she observed two dead dogs in Duncan’s yard and heard a third dog barking. Responding to the neighbor’s subsequent call, police officers heard a dog whimpering as if in distress. Stepping on a tall, nearby snowbank and gazing over Duncan’s six-foot privacy fence, they saw two dogs who were apparently frozen and a third dog “alive but emaciated”—they couldn’t see any food or water left out for the dogs. The yard’s gate was padlocked, so officers tried numerous ways to contact the homeowner, to no avail. The officers then contacted the fire department, which removed the padlock from the gate, and animal control took custody of the dogs—in total, police were on scene for less than two hours.

II. Procedural History

Heather Duncan was charged with three counts of animal cruelty under G.L. c. 272, § 77. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the observations by police and any physical evidence, and after an evidentiary hearing the judge allowed the motion, stating “[o]ur courts have not as yet applied the emergency exception to animals.” Under Rule 34 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure, the judge reported the question of law, and trial was continued pending the resolution of the question.