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Supreme Judicial Court ruling on warrantless searches centered around two-year-old Lynn case

BOSTON — The state’s highest court has ruled Essex County prosecutors cannot use evidence seized without a warrant from the Lynn home of a defendant suspected of a violent home invasion.

In a unanimous opinion late Friday, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) upheld a lower court decision and affirmed the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizures.

The justices rejected Essex District Assistant Attorney Emily R. Mello’s contention that Lynn police entered the home without a search warrant because they faced “exigent circumstances.” The legal phrase describes emergency situations where police entry is necessary to prevent harm to the officers, the destruction of evidence, or preventing a suspect from escaping.

But the justices questioned why a warrant was not secured the night before or the morning of the raid.

The SJC ruling centered around a two-year-old case when Lynn police responded to an early morning home invasion on Surfside Road.

Shomar Garcia, the victim who lived in the apartment with his wife and two children, reported three men forced their way into the unit as he was leaving for work.

Garcia told police the trio restrained him with duct tape and stole his jewelry and wallet. One of the suspects struck him in the face with a handgun, he said.

Before leaving the house, the man with the handgun struck Garcia’s crying 6-month-old in the face with the gun, he alleged.
Later that afternoon, Garcia examined booking photos at the police station when he recognized Jean Alexis, 28, a high school classmate, as the man with the gun. He told police he was “100 percent” certain Alexis was one of the men who had broken into his home.
While a detective filled out an arrest warrant that afternoon, the document was not secured when police went to Alexis’ rooming house on Sheridan Street the following morning.

The SJC credited the Lynn Police Department for their investigation of the men who had burst into a Lynn home in the early morning of June 10, 2016, tied the father up, and terrorized a mother and her two children in the bedroom. But the justices noted the detective failed to seek the warrant on an emergency basis.

Five plainclothes officers went to the rooming house where Alexis lived, and secured the area around the home. Alexis tried to evade police through a rear window before eventually surrendering outside the house, police said.

While in the apartment, detectives spotted jewelry atop a refrigerator that matched the description of items taken during the home invasion. At that point, police got a search warrant and seized evidence including jewelry, a wallet, a stun gun, as well as clothing that matched a description by Garcia of the clothes worn by the intruders.

Alexis was charged with home invasion, assault and battery on a child with injury, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm without a firearm identification card.

Emily A. Cardy, Alexis’ attorney from the Committee for Public Counsel Services, argued the items seized prior to securing the warrant should be barred from any trial and the SJC agreed.

“There is no evidence there was a risk the defendant would flee, destroy evidence or be a risk to the officers if police had followed the normal course and secured a warrant,” the justices wrote. “Forgoing multiple opportunities to procure an arrest warrant further highlights the unreasonableness of the arrest. Considering all of the circumstances, the arrest of the defendant in his dwelling without a warrant was unreasonable.”

Cardy did not return calls seeking comment.

A spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said the DA would have no comment and office policy prevents assistant district attorneys from talking to reporters.

Lynn Chief of Police Michael Mageary did not return a call seeking comment.

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