National Lawyers Guild
Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.
14 Beacon St., Suite 407, Boston, MA 02108
tel. 617-227-7335 • fax: 617-227-5495 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Elaine Sharp, Board of Directors Urszula Masny-Latos, Executive Director
THE NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD, MASSACHUSETTS CHAPTER,
CALLS ON THE GOVERNMENT AND LAW ENFORCEMENT TO EXPLAIN CONSTITUTIONAL BASIS FOR WARRANTLESS SEARCHES AND SEIZURES
Boston, Friday, April 26, 2013: The National Lawyers Guild, Massachusetts Chapter (NLG) continues to express its sympathy to those who were wounded and to those who lost family members in the April 15 bombings and in the events of the following days. We join in the hope for recovery and healing.
While we appreciate that public safety rules usually serve a legitimate purpose in times of crisis in order to protect and maintain an orderly society, our legal system includes other important protections derived from the U.S. Constitution. Those protections must be upheld, especially in the aftermath of crisis. Indeed, those protections are designed for times of crisis. If constitutional protections are denied to some of us, they may one day be denied to all of us.
One week has passed since the lock down of Watertown, as well as Boston and other areas. This lock down and the widespread use of warrantless searches and seizures imposed by law enforcement on Friday, April 19, 2013 were unprecedented in our nation’s history.
We are concerned about the widespread use of searches and seizures, in particular, warrantless entries into and searches of many homes, sometimes with guns drawn, without any articulable suspicion to believe that the bombing suspect was located in any particular home. These widespread searches and seizures, executed by heavily armed officers who more closely resembled special forces military units than they did law enforcement officers, occurred over a 20-block area of Watertown and in the context of a total lockdown of that area, and a more voluntary lockdown of the entire City of Boston, among other places.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects us from just this sort of behavior by the Government, as does the Constitution of the Commonwealth.
The United States Constitution, Amendment IV states,
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Similarly, the Declaration of the Rights of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Part the First, Article XIV states,
"Every subject has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches, and seizures, of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions. All warrants, therefore, are contrary to this right, if the cause or foundation of them be not previously supported by oath or affirmation; and if the order in the warrant to a civil officer, to make search in suspected places, or to arrest one or more suspected persons, or to seize their property, be not accompanied with a special designation of the persons or objects of search, arrest, or seizure: and no warrant ought to be issued but in cases, and with the formalities prescribed by the laws."
The Supreme Court has carved out a narrowly tailored exception to the requirement of a search warrant, applicable when law enforcement officers are in hot pursuit of a fleeing felon. However, hot pursuit may be invoked only when officers are in immediate and continuous pursuit of a suspect from the scene of the crime. Here, the officers simply shut down a large area and began indiscriminate invasions of every home in that area over the course of a full day. Ultimately, the suspect was never even found in that locked down area. Thus, any claim of hot pursuit is unconvincing. Based on the facts at this time, we do not believe that this or any other exception to the warrant requirement was justified here.
As a legal organization, we are especially concerned that these actions of law enforcement could be used as precedent for the further erosion of the public’s constitutional rights. Indeed, the Boston Police are already seeking more cameras and drones to saturate the area with surveillance ability “to prevent a similar attack in the future”. If the police can shut down an entire city in pursuit of one suspect, albeit a dangerous one, what use of force will they consider to be justified when faced with a similar or greater threat? If we do not take a stand to protect our constitutional freedoms now, they will continue to erode.
The National Lawyers Guild, Massachusetts Chapter calls on the Massachusetts Government and all law enforcement agencies - federal, state and local - involved in these searches and seizures to explain to the public what grounds justified the forcible lock down of an entire town for a full day and why constitutional protections were ignored.
The NLG, Massachusetts Chapter also invites any person subject to these searches and seizures to speak with us about your experiences and about your legal rights.
The National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest and human rights bar organization in the United States with a goal to “serve the people to the ends that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests.”
—- END —-
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