During the fall of 2008 and 2009, Jabrai Jordan Copney was a frequent visitor to his girlfriend Brittany Smith's Harvard dorm room. In May 2009 he met a drug dealer who frequently sold marijuana to Harvard students. He and two friends devised a plan to rob the drug dealer. He arranged a deal to purchase three pounds of marijuana. Copney used his girlfriend's cell phone to arrange to have the dealer meet him in the basement of Kirkland House, a different dorm from the one in which his girlfriend lived.
The robbery did not go as planned and the dealer refused to turn over the drugs, even at gunpoint. He ran from the building and Copney fired three shots, one of which hit the drug dealer. Copney's friends pursued the dealer, who was able to keep running away, but Copney went to his girlfriend's dorm, Lowell House, and gave her the gun. She hid the gun in someone else's dorm room. Copney, his two friends, and Smith all went to South Station and took a bus to New York City. The victim collapsed on the street and later died at the hospital from his gunshot wound.
Copney filed a motion to suppress a black and orange varsity-style jacket that was taken from Smith's dorm room. A judge denied his motion, based on facts related to the search. Witnesses said one of the fleeing males was wearing a black and orange varsity jacket. Smith's Harvard ID card had been swiped through the electronic reader at both the dorm where the attempted robbery took place and her own dorm around the time of the shooting. Smith's cellphone showed the victim contacted someone at that number before the shooting. The police tried to contact Smith but got no response. She did not respond to multiple calls from her Harvard dean, whom she generally responded to quickly. Her light was on in her room and her window was open. Both Harvard and police officials were concerned for her safety. When police entered the dorm room to check on Smith, they saw the orange and black jacket. They immediately obtained a search warrant.
Copney claimed that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the dorm room because he often stayed there for weeks at a time. Harvard's written policies regarding residency, however, prohibited this practice. Guests were not allowed to stay for more than a brief time without permission from the University. The University also maintained ultimate access to all dorm rooms. The judge ruled that Smith herself was not a host with ultimate control of the dorm room. She was not permitted to allow Copney to stay for weeks at a time. The court noted that where the owner of the premises specifically forbade the type of occupancy Copney was claiming, a defendant may not claim that his own expectation of privacy was reasonable.
Even if Copney could claim a reasonable expectation of privacy in the dorm room, he abandoned that expectation when he left for New York City on May 18. Furthermore, the warrantless entry was justified under the emergency aid exception. The officers were extremely concerned for Smith's safety, after their investigation showed her cell phone and ID card were involved in the crime, but she would not respond to any attempts to contact her. The appeals court ruled that the trial judge was correct in denying the motion to suppress.
Commonwealth v. Copney (2014) 468 Mass. 405, --N.E.3d --