In a recent Massachusetts appellate decision, the defendant was convicted of carrying a loaded firearm without a license and carrying a firearm without a license. The case arose when an officer was patrolling in Boston and saw a car blocking traffic. After running its license plate number, he found that the owner of the car had a suspended license. The car turned without signaling, so he pulled it over.
The officer discovered that the owner of the car was also the driver. He confirmed she was driving with a suspended license. Neither of the passengers had licenses either, so all three had to get out of the car so that it could be towed away. Another officer joined the first, and they did an inventory search of the car. Inside the center console was a bullet.
One officer asked the defendant if he could look in her bag in a conversational way. The other officers were several feet away, discussing what should happen with the car. The defendant gave the officer the bag, and inside he saw a gun. The defendant was then taken into custody. She was convicted and then appealed.
On appeal, she argued she was subject to a custodial interrogation when the officer asked if he could look in her bag. Therefore, she argued, she should have been given Miranda warnings. The appellate court explained that the Miranda safeguards don’t apply until a defendant’s freedom of action is limited such that it amounts to a formal arrest. The issue is then whether, considering all of the circumstances and factors, a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would believe he was in custody. Factors to be considered include where the interrogation takes place, whether the officers convey that the defendant is a suspect, the nature of the interrogation (aggressive or casual and informal), whether incriminating statements were made, and whether the person being questioned was free to limit the interrogation or leave the location.
In this case, the court noted that the questioning happened on a sidewalk one-on-one. The officers hadn’t shown they suspected the defendant of a crime, and the questioning was brief and not aggressive. The officers didn’t limit the defendant from stopping the questioning or moving away, the way they would have in a formal arrest.
The appellate court also explained that the defendant had the initial burden to present evidence that showed what she said and did in giving over the handbag wasn’t voluntary. The Commonwealth then received the burden to prove that the statement was voluntary. In this case, the defendant claimed she didn’t agree to the search but was simply acquiescing to the officer’s claim he had authority to take her bag. The appellate court reasoned that statements are voluntary when they are results of rational intellect and free will, without coercion.
A court looks at the total circumstances around a statement to determine whether the statement is free and voluntary under the totality of the circumstances test. In this case, the defendant wasn’t restrained and wasn’t told she couldn’t go. The defendant argued that she hadn’t been informed she could refuse consent. The court reasoned that knowledge of the right to refuse isn’t a prerequisite of voluntary consent, so the judgment was affirmed.
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