Possession of Tools, Map Not Enough to Show Intent to Commit Burglary

By Ken Wallentine

Commonwealth v. Squires, 71 N.E.3d 520 (Mass. 2017) 

Squires and Angier were walking along railroad tracks on a snowy evening, the temperature plunging below freezing. When stopped by officers, Squires told the officers that the men were “just out for a stroll.” Angier unslung his backpack and placed it on the ground with a loud metal “clang.” The officers searched the backpack and discovered a blue crowbar, a large screwdriver bar, a pair of black gloves, and a small red flashlight. The backpack also contained a crude, hand-drawn map with one spot marked “going in” and five more spots marked with an “X.”

A search of the two men produced two-way radios tuned to the same frequency. Both men also had black gloves. The officers walked to Squires’ vehicle and searched it, finding another pair of black gloves and a small sledgehammer. Squires and Angier were convicted of “walking on a railroad track” and “possession of burglarious instruments.”

Angier died during the appellate process. His attorney asked for the charges against him to be vacated. Perhaps as he faced some other judgment bar he would offer a decent explanation for his burglarious tools and “X marks the spot” map. Or not. The court declined to dismiss the matter because Angier’s legal arguments were intertwined with Squires’, who had not passed on to the final judgment bar.

However, a narrowly divided Supreme Judicial Court held that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof to show intent to commit burglary. Walking by the tracks on a snowy evening with an “X marks the spot” map and a host of tools commonly—but not exclusively—used for break-ins was not sufficient to show nefarious burglarious intent.

Who knows? Perhaps Squires and Angier had recently read Robert Frost’s pastoral poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and were doing their best to relive the moment (albeit along the railroad tracks).

Lexipol Law Enforcement

CHIEF KEN WALLENTINE is a Special Agent who directs the Utah Attorney General Training Center, overseeing use of force training and investigation and cold case homicide investigations. He is also a consultant and Senior Legal Advisor for Lexipol. Ken formerly served as Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General, serving over three decades in public safety before a brief retirement. He also serves as the Chairman of the Peace Officer Merit Commission of Greater Salt Lake County.

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