The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Commonwealth v. Porter

Date: 
03/11/2010
Author: 
SJC, Gants
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that families residing in emergency shelter have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their bedrooms and that the shelter staff had neither actual nor apparent authority to give police consent to conduct a warrantless search, notwithstanding that the shelter director had a key and the shelter's policies said that staff could enter at any time to check for rules violations. MLRI and Mass. Coalition for the Homeless filed an amicus brief in the case due to concern about an earlier Appeals Court ruling that held that shelter residents have no expectation of privacy in their rooms. On this point, the SJC ruled: "The room that the juvenile and his mother shared at the shelter was a transitional living space, but it was nonetheless their home. The juvenile slept and kept his belongings in the room. He and his mother possessed a key to the room, allowing them the degree of privacy inherent in a locked door. The fact that he did not own the room, that he was limited in his use of the room, and that shelter staff members had a master key and could enter the room "for professional business purposes" does not diminish the legitimacy of his privacy interest in the room." In light of the illegality of the search, the Court affirmed the trial court decision to suppress the gun that was found in the room. Other amici included the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mass. and the Children's Law Center.
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