Criminal Law

Jonathan P Killeen
Shareholder at Boyle, Shaughnessy Law PC in Manchester, NH

No. 2019-0124
August 18, 2020

  • Whether the trial court erred by denying defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained resulting from a protective sweep.

Police received information from a confidential informant that the defendant was selling large quantities of drugs and was staying at a motel. The police obtained an arrest warrant for the defendant. The defendant was subsequently arrested at the threshold of his motel room door. In the process of the arrest, police observed women moving in the motel room, which was full of smoke, and one woman quickly turned her back to the officers and the open door while moving her arms and hands. The police then entered the motel room to secure it. Upon doing so, the police discovered money and drugs.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the police violated Part I, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth Amendment of the Federal Constitution when they performed a protective sweep of the motel room and discovered incriminating evidence. The defendant specifically argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because the police lacked specific and articulable suspicion that the motel room harbored someone who posed a danger.

The Supreme Court held that the police had specific and articulable information which, when viewed in its totality, gave rise to a reasonable suspicion justifying a protective sweep. Specifically, the defendant was suspected of selling narcotics which when coupled with the police officers’ observations of the women’s conduct through the open motel door gave rise to sufficient information to lead a reasonably prudent law officer to believe that the motel room contained dangerous individuals warranting a protective sweep.

Additionally, the Supreme Court determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the defendant’s request to reopen the motion-to-sup- press record following his conviction, but before sentencing, based upon the disclosure of a new police report that evidenced that the defendant sold drugs at a location in Keene, separate from his motel room. The defendant argued that this information proved that the police only knew he was residing at the motel but not that he was selling drugs from the motel. The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it concluded that nothing in the new police report would have impacted its analysis on the motion to suppress because the report corroborated the information the police already had; namely, that the defendant sold drugs and was staying at the motel.

Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Shane B. Goudas, attorney, on the brief and orally) for the State. Christopher M. Johnson, chief appellate defender, of Con- cord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.