Court Approves Mothers Authority to Search Room

In an unpublished opinion the Massachusetts appeals court on January 25, 2010 ruled in COMMONWEALTH vs. HECTOR MARTINEZ, JR. 09-P-544 MEMORANDUM AND ORDER PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28, that a mothers apparent authority to search her sons room and closet was appropriate and evidence found therein was admissible.

The court stated, ”Discussion. The Commonwealth contends that the judge’s findings do not support his conclusion that the defendant’s mother lacked authority to consent to the search, and that the judge applied improper legal standards. ‘In reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, we accept the judge’s subsidiary findings of fact absent clear error ‘but conduct an independent review of his ultimate findings and conclusions of law.” Commonwealth v. Scott, 440 Mass. 642, 646 (2004), quoting from Commonwealth v. Jimenez, 438 Mass. 213, 218 (2002).

Under the doctrine of apparent authority, we apply an objective standard when assessing consent. See Commonwealth v. Dejarnette, 75 Mass. App. Ct. 88, 95 (2009). We ask whether ‘the facts available to the officer at the moment . . . [would] ‘warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief’ that the consenting party had authority’ to permit the search of the property. Commonwealth v. Dejarnette, supra at 96, quoting fromIllinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177, 188 (1990).

The judge’s findings support our conclusion that Officer Goudreau was reasonable in his belief that the defendant’s mother had apparent authority to consent to the search of the bedroom. The defendant’s mother owned the house, and although the defendant lived there, he did not pay rent. The defendant’s mother invited the officers into the house and told them to ‘check’ while pointing to the other rooms. The door to the defendant’s room was open and the mother led the officers into the room. She never acted as though she lacked permission to enter and did not hesitate in inviting the officers into the room. See Sterling-Ward v. Tujaka, 414 F.Supp.2d 727, 735 (E.D. Mich. 2006). Furthermore, she did not seek permission or guidance from anyone before permitting the officers to enter. Once inside the room, she opened the dresser drawers for the officers to observe before they opened anything. The defendant knew the officers were in the house and never once objected. See Commonwealth v. Ocasio, 71 Mass. App. Ct. 304, 308 (2008).

Conclusion. The defendant’s mother had apparent authority to consent to the search of the bedroom and closet and thus we need not consider whether she had actual authority to do so. The suppression of the items found in the defendant’s bedroom and closet is reversed. [FN2]

Commentary,

Although an unpublished opinion, A summary decision pursuant to rule 1:28, issued after February 25, 2008, may be cited for its persuasive value but, because of the limitations, not as binding precedent. The case does provide a good example of apparent authority and the commonwealths burden on the subject

Attorney Ronald. A. Sellon

About Attorney Ronald A. Sellon

Ronald A. Sellon is a licensed Attorney in the state of Massachusetts and U.S. District Court, Massachusetts as well as a Sergeant with a Municipal Police Department and U.S. military Veteran. Additionally, he has taught Criminal Procedure at the Massachusetts State Police Academy in New Braintree and has written a text on Criminal Procedure for police field training officer programs. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, was a 2008 recipient of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (Mass C.O.P.) Presidents award and holds a Bachelors Degree in Law Enforcement, a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice Administration, and a Juris Doctor Law Degree. Questions related to content material may be directed to RSellon@PoliceLegalPromotions.com
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