Articles Posted in Gun Crimes

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts violation of probation hearing that was premised on the defendant’s alleged possession of an unlicensed firearm. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the quantum of evidence necessary to sustain a violation of probation.

The Facts

The defendant was a juvenile who was placed on probation for an unarmed robbery. While on probation, the defendant was arrested for the possession of a firearm without a license. Evidently, police responded to a call for an instance of breaking and entering. Upon entering the residence, police found several teens in the attic. The defendant was sitting on a chair with a black jacket draped over the back of it.

The police officers put all the teens up against the wall after seeing what they believed to be a handgun protruding out of another teen’s jacket. After searching all the teenagers, police officers found a gun in the black jacket that was draped over the chair that the defendant was sitting in. Later in the evening, two of the teens in the attic told police that the black jacket belonged to the defendant. However, one of the other teens told police that it was his jacket.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun possession case discussing whether a defendant who is found guilty of a qualifying offense, and has previously been adjudicated delinquent of another qualifying juvenile offense, can be sentenced as a repeat offender under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). In discussing the issue, the court conducted an analysis of the Eighth Amendment protection from “cruel and usual” punishment. However, the court ultimately concluded that qualifying juvenile adjudications may count as predicate offenses under the ACCA.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and carrying a loaded firearm in a Massachusetts gun case. After a jury trial, but before the defendant was sentenced, the issue was raised as to whether the defendant should be sentenced under the ACCA as a repeat offender. Specifically, the issue presented to the court was whether the defendant’s juvenile adjudications, of which there were two, counted as “convictions” under the ACCA.

The Massachusetts ACCA creates a tiered system of punishment under which those who have previous qualifying convictions are sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences based on the number of previous qualifying convictions. The mandatory sentence for each subsequent conviction gets longer, ultimately reaching a sentence of 15 to 20 years for those with three or more qualifying convictions.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case requiring the court determine if a firearm that was recovered from the defendant after he was illegally stopped by police should be suppressed. The court found that the defendant’s act of punching the police officer after the illegal search had begun was an intervening criminal act justifying the defendant’s arrest and the officers’ subsequent search. Thus, the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to suppress was affirmed.

The Facts of the Case

Several police officers were in an unmarked car when they observed what they believed to be a drug transaction. The officers circled back to see if they could confirm their suspicions, but by the time they returned to where the transaction had occurred the parties had left.

Shortly after, the officers came across a group of several men, one of whom was the defendant. Another one of the men was a known gang member. Initially, the officers thought that they may have been involved in the drug transaction, but upon approaching, they realized that not to be the case. Nevertheless, the officers exited their car and frisked members of the group, including the defendant. Nothing was recovered.

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Over the years, police have tried a number of different investigative tactics to uncover illegal activities and arrest those they believe to be engaged in such activities. In general, the United States and Massachusetts constitutions outline the protections individuals have from intrusive, unfair, or coercive police conduct, and courts will apply these constitutional principles to enforce the rights of individuals when necessary. More often than not, this results in the exclusion of evidence obtained illegally through a motion to suppress.One way that police try to uncover illegal narcotic activity is through the use of confidential informants. A confidential informant is often a citizen with no law enforcement experience who agrees to cooperate with the police. Often, these individuals have some kind of “inside” knowledge through their relationship with those who are the target of the police investigation.

The use of confidential informants, however, presents major concerns because an informant’s tip can lead to the issuance of a warrant, or it may be the basis for an arrest or search. That being the case, Massachusetts courts only allow police to act on certain kinds of tips from confidential informants. A recent case illustrates how courts analyze cases involving confidential informants.

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In 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.

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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.

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In Commonwealth v. Dow, a defendant appealed after being convicted of multiple counts, including possession of a class B substance under G. L. c. 94C, § 34, a class C substance under G. L. c. 94C, § 34, illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition, possessing without a firearm identification card, and possessing a large capacity feeding device.

The police had searched the defendant’s home after applying for and receiving a search warrant. The detective on the case had been an officer since 2001 and had experience with narcotics cases. He received a tip from a confidential informant that the defendant was selling cocaine from his cars. The informant told the detective detailed information about the cars and the defendant’s apartment. During 2011, the informant made four controlled buys of cocaine from the defendant, and during three of them, the police saw the defendant go from his apartment to the purchase location without stopping. The informant came back to the police station without stopping and handed them cocaine.

At that point, a warrant was obtained to search the defendant’s apartment. The warrant covered all class B substances, as well as paraphernalia and any materials used to prepare cocaine, money used to buy or sell cocaine, and personal property. While searching, the police found a $40 bag of cocaine, half of a Suboxone pill, a cell phone, and over $1,500. They also seized paraphernalia, $11,000, guns, ammunition, and a pill box filled with four different kinds of prescription drugs.

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In Commonwealth v. Bouyer, a Massachusetts defendant appealed from convictions of possessing a loaded firearm, possessing ammunition without a firearm card, and carrying a firearm without a license to do so. The case arose at around 12:20 a.m. when three plainclothes police officers were patrolling in an unmarked cruiser. They saw 8-10 people leaving an alley, and one of the officers told the others that two people in the group were gang members.

When the group noticed the cruiser, they changed their behavior. The defendant started walking faster with his right arm held to his body, although his other arm was swinging. Based on their training, the officers suspected he was holding an illegal firearm. The officers got out of the cruiser without activating their sirens or lights and without saying anything to the individuals or drawing weapons. Two officers followed the defendant, who slipped into a building.

The door shut before the second officer got there, but once he opened the door he saw the first officer in a struggle with the defendant. The first officer told the second officer that the defendant had a firearm, and so the second officer helped to subdue the defendant and get hold of the firearm, which was at the defendant’s waist.

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In Commonwealth v. Romero, the court considered an interlocutory appeal of an order denying the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence seized and statements made after a warrantless search of a parked car that was registered in his name. At the suppression hearing, the police officers testified that five individuals, including the defendant, were gathered and drinking from open alcohol containers in a parking lot on the night in question. One of the individuals crouched behind a parked car. There were no trespassing and no parking signs posted, and the lot was dim.

The officer pat frisked the person crouching by the parked car and found nothing. The officer told him to go back to the group. The officer searched for 30-45 seconds and, finding nothing, returned to the other officers. The officers learned that none of the group lived in the area, and the defendant was previously arrested for armed robbery and might have had a knife on him. However, when he was pat frisked, no weapons were found.

An officer noticed that the side windows of a Dodge Caravan parked in front of the officer’s car were opened partway, and there was a fanny pack and jacket on the floor behind the driver’s seat. The officer thought there might be valuables in the car, and he asked if anyone owned the car or knew the owner. Nobody responded. The officer was worried for the officers’ safety and opened the Caravan’s door. He looked in the glove box, and when he frisked the fanny pack he found a loaded firearm.
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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.
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