Massachusetts gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation. Handgun owners must be licensed to buy firearms and ammunition and to carry them. A police officer must have reasonable suspicion to stop you for carrying a handgun without a license. What is reasonable suspicion?
In a recent appellate decision, a Massachusetts appellate court considered a situation in which two police officers tried to stop and question a defendant suspected of illegal activity. At the time, one of the officers had served in the department for 9 years and had been trained to identify those carrying concealed firearms. Part of the training was that an unlicensed carrier is less likely to use a holster and more likely to adjust the weapon inside his clothes. Another characteristic is head movements in multiple directions in order to determine if the weapon is being detected.
On the night in question, the officer was on an overnight shift, in the passenger seat of an unmarked patrol car. The neighborhood was home to three or four gangs and the officer had previously responded to gunfire incidents there. At 12:30 a.m. the officer and his partner saw the defendant walking with his hand inside his pocket. The defendant was adjusting an object. When he saw the patrol car, he looked surprised. The officer asked to speak with him. The defendant looked away and kept his right hand inside his pants. He turned the corner and started jogging.
The officer got out of the car and ran after him for a block before the officer caught up to him and did a pat frisk. The defendant resisted. During the tussle, a handgun fell from the defendant’s pants. The defendant was placed under arrest. Seven rounds of ammunition were found subsequently.
The defendant was charged with carrying a loaded firearm without a license, carrying a firearm without a license, possession of ammunition without holding a firearm identification card and resisting arrest. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence arising out of the encounter.
The judge allowed the motion to suppress. His rationale was that the area where the tussle happened was not a high crime area. He found that the officer had no prior knowledge of the defendant and was not responding to a radio call. The judge credited the officer with training in the detection of concealed weapons but did not describe the instruction, or that the defendant was displaying signs of carrying that were described in the training.
The Commonwealth sought leave to pursue an appeal of the judge’s order. A justice of the Supreme Judicial Court permitted the appeal. The appellate court explained that the judge made findings that suggested that the factors supporting reasonable suspicion were limited. The judge had concluded that trying to evade a police officer might be stupid but it was not against the law and didn’t alone provide a basis of reasonable suspicion to stop an individual. Accordingly, the evidence was suppressed.
The appellate court rejected two findings. It found that multiple shootings involving firearms contradicted the judge’s finding that it was not a high crime area. It also rejected the judge’s finding that the fact it was midnight added little to the calculus of reasonable suspicion.
The appellate court noted that seemingly innocent conduct in combination could create the reasonable suspicion necessary for a stop and investigation. The court found that the police had reasonable grounds to conduct an investigative stop and frisk as soon as the defendant turned the corner at a walking or jogging pace. The order suppressing the evidence was reversed.
If you are arrested for a gun crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.
More Blog Posts:
U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in Mandatory Minimum Case Alleyne v. U.S., Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 19, 2013
Court of Appeals Ruling Affirms Prior Conviction Record Insufficient to Establish Identity, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 11, 2013