Massachusetts v. Sheppard

PETITIONER: Massachusetts
RESPONDENT: Osborne Sheppard
LOCATION: Roxbury neighborhood

DOCKET NO.: 82-963
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

CITATION: 468 US 981 (1984)
ARGUED: Jan 17, 1984
DECIDED: Jul 05, 1984

Barbara A. H. Smith - on behalf of the Petitioner
John Reinstein - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Based on the results of investigation of the place of murder Boston police attempted to receive the warrant to conduct the search of the home of suspect Osborne Sheppard. The officer Peter O`Malley drafted the affidavit with indicating the list of evidence he expected to obtain after the examination. As the court didn`t work during the weekend, he could not submit new empty application for permission; then he used the already filled submission. He submitted the application and the affidavit to the home of the governing judge asking to review and approve the current submission. The judge confirmed the documents but did not indicate the evidence from the affidavit on the warrant.

After the investigation of Sheppard`s house, the police discovered all the listed evidence and accused him of the murder. At the judicial hearing, the judges affirmed that the warrant contradicted with requirements of the Fourth Amendment because it didn`t contain the summary of the search. However, the judgment considered the guilt of the defendant recognized the proofs as legitimate because the police officers conducted the investigation in good faith and assumed they were empowered on it.

Sheppard appealed arguing that this evidence could not be accepted by the court because they were seized infringing his rights and without legal grounds. The Court confirmed his position and found the permission as invalid.

The Supreme Court of the USA revised the case Massachusetts v. Sheppard. The judges confirmed the legibility of the warrant and the found evidence. The case study explains that officer had reasonable grounds for suspicious of the defendant and indicated all the items for the seizure that were not repeated in the affidavit by the judge`s mistake. Thus, it did not contradict with the constitutional guarantees, as the police were empowered legally on the investigation and they assumed that the warrant was correct.

Hence, the case brief concluded that the appel late decision in Massachusetts v Sheppard was reversed and confirmed the guilt of the defendant.


If police officers mistakenly believe they have obtained a valid warrant, can a trial court use the evidence they obtained?

Media for Massachusetts v. Sheppard

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 1984 in Massachusetts v. Sheppard

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Massachusetts against Sheppard.

Miss Smith, you may proceed when you are ready.

Barbara A. H. Smith:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case presents the question whether the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires application of the exclusionary rule to evidence seized by police acting under the authority of a search warrant issued upon a finding of probable cause but which is later invalidated because of the technical error of omission committed by the issuing judge, an error of which the police had no knowledge, took no advantage and which resulted in no prejudice to the defendant.

The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ruled that suppression was required because this Court had not yet recognized an exception to application of the exclusionary rule for an error of this type.

The court, thus, overruled the trial court's determination that although the warrant was defective the issuing judge failing to restate in the warrant the items specified in the application or to incorporate that affidavit by reference, he declined to exclude the evidence finding that the police had acted properly in conducting their duties, that they had acted upon probable cause and in good faith thus presenting a factual situation in which the exclusion would have no deterrent effect.

Rather, the sole consequence of exclusion would be to deprive the jury of the real and probative evidence, thus, impairing their fact finding function.

I think the factual situation in this case is extremely important, and I will, therefore, elaborate on it in some detail.

At 5 a.m. the morning of May 5, 1979, a Saturday morning, the badly burned, partially clad body of a young woman was found in a vacant lot in the Roxbury District of Boston.

A piece of wire was bound around one leg.

An autopsy disclosed that the victim had died of multiple skull fractures.

The victim had been alive but unconscious when her body was set on fire.

By midday the victim had been identified and Osborne Sheppard had been identified as a possible boyfriend.

An officer who knew Sheppard as a gambler began to circulate through the Roxbury area stopping at a gaming house he knew Sheppard to frequent.

Sheppard himself opened the door, and after some conversation with the police agreed to accompany them to the police station.

He was given his Miranda rights in the car on the way to the station.

He was told that the police were investigating the death of Sandra Boulware, and they wanted to examine his relationship with Ms. Boulware and establish his whereabouts on May 4th and 5th.

Mr. Sheppard told the police that he had visited with the victim at her home on Tuesday, May 1st, that they together had taken a taxi cab back to his home, stopping on the way to purchase some marijuana and a bottle of Amaretto.

He said that the victim had left him at approximately 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

He also stated that he had been at the gaming house where the police had found him from 9 p.m. on Friday until 5 a.m. that Saturday morning.

After naming some other individuals who had been at the gaming house with him, he left the police station.

Continuing their investigation that afternoon the police questioned the other members of the gaming establishment who said that indeed Osborne Sheppard had left.

He had left at approximately 3 a.m. borrowing a car to drive some men home on a trip that ordinarily took 15 minutes although he did not return until 4:45 a.m. and then abruptly left again.

The police also learned that on leaving the gaming house at 6 a.m. one of the occupants noticed on the porch a gasoline can and a pair of gloves.

On Sunday morning, the police learned from a friend of Sheppards that he had refinished his basement area, and this was an area in which he entertained women for social purposes.

Most importantly on that Sunday morning the owner of the automobile corroborated the fact that Sheppard had borrowed his car.

On inspection of the car the police and a police chemist found human blood stains and pieces of hair on the rear bumper near the trunk area.

In the trunk area they found more human blood stains and pieces of wire similar to that which had been found on the body.

The owner of the car told them that there was no wire and no blood in the trunk of that car on Friday night before he had loaned it to Sheppard.

It was then after consultation with the district attorney's office determined that arrest and search warrants should be obtained.