A Revere police officer had no legal right to enter a motel room and seize a loaded handgun and marijuana even though a woman in the room had let the officer in, a divided Supreme Judicial Court ruled today in a decision written by Governor Deval Patrick's nominee for chief justice.
Writing for the majority in the 5-2 decision, Justice Roderick L. Ireland concluded that it was unreasonable for Officer Mark Desimone to believe that an unidentified woman who answered the door at the Ocean Lodge, possibly under the influence of drugs, had the authority to let him enter the room on August 2005.
As a result, officers had no right to seize a .38-caliber revolver from a trash barrel as well as a quantity of marijuana, the court ruled. The decision reverses a ruling by a state Appeals Court panel and throws out the evidence against Jose M. Lopez, the guest arrested in the case, who has been awaiting trial.
``We conclude that, on the facts of this case, it was not objectively reasonable for Desimone to have thought that the woman who came to the door had the authority to permit him to enter,'' Ireland wrote on behalf of the high court. ``Consequently, there was no valid consent to justify the warrrantless entry into the defendant's home, and the entry violated'' Article 14 of the state Constitution.
Captain Michael Murphy, a spokesman for the Revere police, criticized the ruling, saying it was unrealistic to expect a police officer to grill a person who opens the door, particularly when the officer wasn't intending to search premises. Desimone had gone to the room under the impression that the motel manager was staying there.
``I don't want to be disrespectful of the court, but it just doesn't seem to be practical to be closely scrutinizing the person who allows you in the door,'' Murphy said. ``From a police officer's perspective, it's a disappointing ruling.''
But Lopez's court-appointed lawyer, Andrea Petersen, said the decision reflected common sense.
``The police have to have a reasonable belief that somebody is giving them the authority to enter,'' she said. ``If the woman comes to the door, and the police themselves admit she looks as though she might have been on drugs, then I think it's unreasonable to assume she had the authority to let them in.''
Petersen said she was surprised that a divided Appeals Court panel had concluded last year that Desimone had obtained the evidence legally, reversing a Chelsea district court judge who tossed the evidence.
The ruling stems from an incident late on the night of Aug. 30, 2005, at the two-story, 40-room motel, which had a notorious reputation for drug-dealing, drug abuse, and violence.
Desimone had regularly visited the motel while on patrol and checked the guest log with the manager, whom he knew as Victor, to see whether anyone staying there was wanted.
On the night in question, Desimone went to what he thought was the manager's room, number 138, to retrieve a discarded hypodermic needle that Victor had asked him to pick up, the ruling said. Desimone, who was dressed in uniform, knocked on the door, and a woman opened it. The officer asked if Victor was there, said the ruling.
Desimone testified at an evidentiary hearing in district court that the woman looked at him ``funny -- like a deer in the headlights type of look,'' and replied, ``I don't know.''
Desimone showed her a needle disposal canister he was holding, said, ``Can I come in?'' She said, ``Yeah, sure.'' She look as though she might have been on drugs, Desimone testified.
Once inside, Desimone saw spotted three men sitting on a bed with what appeared to be marijuana, said the ruling. Then Desimone spotted another man in the far corner of the room and heard a loud thump that came from a metal trash can near that man. When Desimone looked inside the can, he found the gun.
The man was Lopez, who was charged with multiple crimes, including carrying a firearm without a license and possession of marijuana.
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more