District court clerks can issue search warrants for any location in the state, not just within their own geographic territory, the state's highest court ruled Wednesday in a decision praised by prosecutors.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in an appeal by Joseph Mendes, a Cape Cod man who was convicted on drug and firearms charges.
Mendes argued that a district court without proper territorial jurisdiction issued search warrants that led to the discovery of drugs, cash and other evidence against him.
But the SJC said that when an application is supported by probable cause, a district court judge or magistrate may issue a search warrant for any specified location in the state, regardless of whether the criminal activity alleged in the warrant is located outside that court's territory.
"As our discussion of them indicates, all the Commonwealth's statutes relating to the issuance of search warrants by a District Court make clear by their language that the only territorial limitation placed on a District Court's authority to issue a search warrant is the geographical boundary of the Commonwealth and its territorial waters," Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the court in the unanimous ruling.
The court upheld Mendes' convictions, finding that a lower court judge properly denied his motions to suppress the evidence seized after searches were done in Bourne.
In an affidavit seeking the search warrants, a Barnstable police detective said local police had been investigating the involvement of the Mendes family - including Joseph Mendes - in cocaine distribution and organized crime on Cape Cod since 1999.
The detective said he had learned from confidential informants that Mendes had moved from Hyannis to Bourne and was allegedly storing and selling cocaine there.
An assistant clerk-magistrate of Barnstable District Court issued two search warrants, where police found drugs, cash and drug paraphernalia. As a result of those two searches, Bourne police obtained two additional warrants to search a Nissan Maxima, again from Barnstable District Court. Police found cash, a .22-caliber pistol, a bag of white powder and several bottles of pills.
A Barnstable County grand jury indicted Mendes on multiple charges, including possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and firearms violations.
Mendes moved to suppress the drugs and gun seized during the searches, arguing that because Barnstable District Court does not have jurisdiction over the town of Bourne, the court lacked authority to issue the search warrants.
A Superior Court judge denied Mendes' motion, and he was later convicted.
Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe praised the decision and said it marked the first time the SJC has ruled on the issue.
"We always felt as a matter of common sense and just the smooth running of the criminal justice system that it made no sense to have a decision come out any other way than it did. Fortunately, the court concurred with that," O'Keefe said.
"You have a set of provisions which lay out the jurisdiction of a given district court, but that doesn't mean that another district court cannot issue a warrant. Those two things aren't mutually exclusive."
Robert Galibois II, Mendes' attorney, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Mendes is serving a five-year sentence.
This program aired on September 8, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.