Right to Telephone Call
Without access to a friend, family or a Boston drug trafficking lawyer, a person detained at a police station or a Federal facility is easy prey for aggressive and dishonest detectives. Detectives trained in forensic interrogation techniques are fully aware that by isolating a suspect they greatly enhance their chances of securing his confession. A suspect’s right to use a telephone to contact family, friends or an attorney, as codified in G.L. c. 276, § 33A, prevents the police from cutting him off from outside resources. An individual deprived of the means of reaching out to family, friends, or a lawyer specializing in drug crimes is easy prey.
Originally, G.L. c. 276, § 33A required the police to inform a detainee “of his right to so use the telephone immediately upon being booked.” The Supreme Judicial Court interpreted the statute to require that “. . . due diligence shall be used to inform the arrested person with reasonable promptness” of his right to make a telephone call. Commonwealth vs. Bouchard, 347 Mass. 418, 419-420 (1964). Learning that the police had begun to “. . . postpone the right of access to the telephone by delay in booking,” the Legislature amended G.L. c. 276, § 33A to require the police to notify an arrestee of his right to a telephone call upon his arrival at the place of detention to prevent the police from frustrating the legislative intent of prompt notice. By enacting the current version of the statute, our Legislature demonstrated its resolve to end the police practice of detaining and questioning an individual at length, and possibly extracting a confession, before advising him of his statutory right to contact the outside world. The statutory language is now unambiguous: the police must advise a detainee of his right to make a telephone call before they can interrogate him.
Where the police have denied a defendant use of a telephone, the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled decisively. Conceding that the police are well positioned to undermine 276, § 33A, the Supreme Judicial Court held in Commonwealth vs. Jones, 362 Mass. 497, 503 (1972) that “. . . in order to make [276, § 33A] an effective piece of legislation, courts should suppress unfavorable evidence gained as a result of denying a defendant the right to use a telephone.”
If you have been arrested, insist on your right to use a telephone call. That call will be the first critical step in helping us defend you.
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Boston, Massachusetts Drug Trafficking Defense Attorney.