Challenging Race-Based Stops and Arrests in Massachusetts

In the pursuit of justice, one of the most fundamental principles is that every individual should be treated fairly, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background. However, there are instances where law enforcement officers may engage in selective enforcement practices, targeting individuals based on their race, which raises serious concerns about civil rights violations. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently released an opinion addressing an allegation that the defendant was illegitimately stopped because of his race. If proven, this allegation could be fatal to the prosecution’s case.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant was arrested after a late-night traffic stop in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The initial reason for the stop was the lack of illumination on the rear license plate of his vehicle. However, before approaching the driver, the arresting officer learned that the car’s owner had an outstanding arrest warrant and was Black. Upon confirming that the defendant was both the driver and the owner of the vehicle, the officer proceeded with the arrest, subsequently discovering a handgun in the defendant’s possession, which ultimately led to his arrest on several felony charges.

Before trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence and statements obtained during the stop. To support his motion, the defendant presented several exhibits, including statistics on the officer’s prior citations, which indicated a disproportionately high number of citations issued to Black motorists. He argued that these statistics created a reasonable inference of racial discrimination and thus warranted an evidentiary hearing. At this hearing, the trial judge determined that the officer truthfully testified that he did not know that the defendant was black before initiating the traffic stop. Under Massachusetts law, the Commonwealth can present a reasonable, race-neutral argument to rebut an accusation that a stop or arrest was racially motivated, which the trial judge accepted, allowing the case to proceed toward a trial.

The defendant appealed the lower ruling to the State Court of Appeals, where the appellate panel agreed with the lower ruling that the Commonwealth had successfully rebutted the inference of discrimination. The panel concluded that the officer’s stop was motivated solely by the observed traffic violation, and there was no evidence to suggest racial bias played a role in his decision-making. The panel acknowledged that implicit bias might lead to racial profiling without conscious awareness, but in this case, there was no indication that such bias influenced the stop. As a result of the appellate ruling, the defendant’s prosecution will continue with the challenged evidence permitted.

Have You Been Charged with a Crime in Massachusetts??

If you or someone close to you is facing criminal charges in Massachusetts, you may have been the victim of a racially motivated or otherwise discriminatory arrest. Prosecutions based upon illegal arrests can often be thwarted before a trial needs to occur. The Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy are experienced in using pre-trial motions to prevent our clients from facing trial. We can fight the charges against you. Our firm represents clients facing all Massachusetts misdemeanors and felonies, including serious felonies and firearm offenses. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.


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