The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that prosecutors can use a man's statement to a police officer that a key found in his pocket would open a Park Plaza Hotel room where he'd allegedly stashed a prostitute he was offering in an ad on a Web site for men seeking sex for a fee.
Aderito Barbosa's lawyer did not contest whether police could use the key itself as possible evidence against him in an upcoming trial on human-trafficking charges following his arrest in a fifth-floor hallway around 10 a.m. on May 8, 2015
In fact, the lawyer did not initially even argue against the use of Barbosa's alleged acknowledgement to a police officer that the key would open Room 540, where officers investigating his possible human traffkicking had, shortly before, found a woman Barbosa had advertised on backpage.com - and after a brief tussle in a hotel hallway between Barbosa and officers.
But a Suffolk Superior Court judge, acting on his own, ruled the statement inadmissible, saying police had arrested him for assault and battery on a police officer, not for human trafficking and that asking him which room the key was for was related to "an investigatory purpose," that is, the investigation into the alleged human trafficking, not anything having to do with his immediate arrest.
The appellate court, however, tossed that and said the officers had more than enough probable cause to ask Barbosa which room the key went to.
[T]he officers had ample evidence of the defendant's involvement in the separate criminal activity of human trafficking before they arrested or frisked him. This evidence, at a minimum, rose to the level of reasonable suspicion and, thus, justified the inquiry regarding the room key. See Commonwealth v. DeJesus, 439 Mass. 616, 627 n.10 (2003). Specifically, the evidence showed, inter alia, that the woman in room 540 was the person who answered the telephone at the number provided in the Backpage advertisement, instructed Agent Freitas to come to the fifth floor, and told him to come to room 540; that the woman in room 540 was crying, shaking, and agitated; that she told the police that they "can't be here" because "he's coming"; that while the officers were interacting with the woman in room 540, the defendant, the target of the investigation, entered the elevator and headed to the fifth floor; that the defendant arrived at the fifth floor and approached within eight to ten feet of room 540; and that the defendant fled when an officer tried to speak with him. Viewed in conjunction with the judge's finding that Detective Bartkiewicz "has substantial training and experience in investigating human trafficking crimes," the room key, unlike the car key in Blevines, had immediate evidentiary significance vis-à-vis the crime of human trafficking. The officers could reasonably have viewed the defendant as the "he" to whom the woman referenced in fear, and further viewed the room key as evidence related to the defendant's approach to room 540 and involvement as her "pimp." The officers were "not required to blind themselves to [this] information." Blevines, 438 Mass. at 609, quoting from Commonwealth v. Sullo, 26 Mass. App. Ct. 766, 770 (1989). To the contrary, the totality of circumstances known to the officers demonstrated an obvious connection between the room key and the crime of human trafficking.
In sum, apart from arresting the defendant for assault and battery on a police officer, the officers also had reasonable suspicion to believe that he was participating in additional criminal activity, which justified the inquiry regarding the room key. Accordingly, the judge should not have suppressed the defendant's statement.