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Evidence Found Before a Pat Frisk in Massachusetts

gunIn a recent Massachusetts appellate case, the court considered whether the district court judge had made a mistake in denying a criminal defendant’s pretrial motion to suppress evidence that was found just before a pat frisk.

The firearm that was seized was discovered when the defendant and his companions were stopped by cops to investigate a report that shots had been fired. A cop had moved toward the defendant when the defendant was trying to avoid a pat frisk. The cop had only a general description of possible shooters. There was nothing linking the defendant and those with him to the crime scene or the group that a witness saw entering a courtyard.

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence (the firearm), claiming that the cops didn’t have a reasonable suspicion for the stop. The motion judge denied the motion, and the defendant was convicted. He appealed from his convictions, arguing that the police didn’t have a reasonable suspicion to stop him, so it was a mistake to deny the motion to suppress.

The appellate court explained that it had to look at two issues to determine whether what the cops had done was constitutional. First, they had to look at whether the defendant had been “seized” in the constitutional sense. Second, they had to look at whether the facts that the cops knew when they did the seizing created a reasonable suspicion that a crime had been or would be committed.

The defendant argued that the seizure happened when the cops showed that they intended to pat frisk the whole group and that in that moment, they didn’t have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or that a crime was about to be committed. The prosecution argued that the seizure only happened when the cops told the defendant to stop, and at that point, what the police knew justified what they were asking.

Someone is seized under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights only when, given all of the circumstances, a reasonable person would have thought he wasn’t free to leave. The judge’s ruling didn’t specifically note the moment of the seizure, but the appellate court stated that it believed a seizure in the constitutional sense happened when a cop came toward the defendant when he was trying to leave the scene to avoid an imminent pat frisk.

The appellate court reasoned that at first the group was cooperative with the cops, but they changed their degree of cooperation when the cops asked to pat frisk them for officer safety. Some agreed. The defendant was argumentative and didn’t show an intent to submit. Instead, he tried to leave the scene. The cop’s response, chasing the defendant as he tried to move away, showed unequivocally that refusing to submit wasn’t an option. This changed the encounter from a consensual encounter to an obligatory one.

Therefore, when the cop’s actions impeded the defendant’s ability to move, he was seized in a constitutional sense, since reasonable people wouldn’t believe they were free to leave. The next issue was whether, once the seizure had happened, the officer had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, based on specific facts and reasonable inferences.

The appellate court concluded that based on the total circumstances, the facts weren’t enough to establish a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was connected to the shooting at the victim’s vehicle. There had only been a general description of possible perpetrators indicating race and age, but not anything distinctive about their clothes or faces. Simply being in a high crime area wasn’t enough.

If you are charged with a firearms offense in Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014