Judge in Aaron Hernandez murder trial excludes evidence obtained from house search in violation of the Fourth Amendment

In a recent hearing before the Bristol County Superior Court, Judge Garsh ruled that she will not be allowing the prosecutor to introduce evidence obtained during a police house search in the murder trial of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez. According to a local news reporter, the judge explained that the application for the warrant authorizing the search was defective, and so police had no authority to execute a search using that warrant.

Searching Aaron Hernandez’s Home
The warrant was for the search of Aaron Hernandez’s home in Franklin, MA. Law enforcement applied for a search warrant in order to seize the cell phone of Carlos Ortiz, a co-defendant of Hernandez in the Bristol County murder trial. And since the cell phone of Ortiz was known by authorities to be at Hernandez’s Franklin home, authorities applied for a warrant to search that location for the cell phone. During the search, police also seized several other pieces of evidence, including dozens of ammunition rounds for various firearms, lease and rental agreements under Hernandez’s name, receipts, mail and checks written to Hernandez, and even keys to a Hummer SUV.

Judge Garsh stated in her 8-page order that the search warrant application filed by the authorities simply failed to provide the proper basis for the lawful issuance of the warrant. Therefore, any evidence obtained during execution of the warrant violated Hernandez’s constitutional protection against unlawful searches and seizures, and so could not be offered into evidence by the prosecutor at trial.

Search Warrants
A search warrant grants law enforcement the authority to intrude on an individual’s privacy by searching their private space – such as a home, office, vehicle, or even their person. Most often, police officers would apply for a search warrant with a magistrate at a local court by submitting a formal application form and attaching an affidavit by the applicant explaining the reason and purpose of the warrant that they seek. Magistrates are allowed to issue the warrant only if the affidavit provides sufficient information to establish that a certain location likely contains evidence pertaining to a crime which the applicant is investigating.

If the magistrate is convinced, a warrant would be issued specifying the particular location, time, and date on which the search should be executed, as well as the particular types of evidence that should be sought during the search. The warrant is then given to law enforcement, which would then execute the warrant but are limited by the specific boundaries in the warrant, including the time, place, and date of execution, as well as the evidence sought. If the executing officers exceeded those boundaries during the execution, any evidence they seize would be held inadmissible as a violation of the suspect’s constitutional right to privacy.

In the case of the search warrant of Hernandez’s Franklin home, Judge Garsh explained that the application attached to the search warrant was deficient in that it failed to state facts establishing a link between Hernandez, Ortiz, and the murder of Lloyd. According to the judge, it is not enough that the affidavit simply state that the police have been conducting an investigation that leads them to believe evidence would be found in the Franklin home. Instead, Judge Garsh stated that the application had to state more specific reasons justifying Hernandez’s Franklin home. And since it failed to do so, any evidence seized would be excluded.

This decision highlights the importance of protecting every criminal suspect’s constitutional rights in the face of any criminal investigation. Judge Garsh made clear that Hernandez’s rights cannot be violated, despite the officers’ good faith and the severity of the criminal charges at stake.

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