Massachusetts Court Grants Motion to Suppress after Defendant Exits Vehicle after Traffic Stop

Late last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case requiring the court to determine if the police officers legally stopped the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was armed and dangerous. As a result, they did not have the legal authority to conduct a pat frisk of the defendant or to search his vehicle.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers noticed the defendant’s vehicle had a cracked windshield and an expired registration sticker. The officers turned on their overhead lights and, after driving for a short while, the defendant pulled into a residential driveway and got out of the car. As the officers approached, the defendant looked into his vehicle a few times. The officers ordered the defendant to stay put, and patted him down, finding a knife. The officers then asked the defendant is he had any other weapons in the car, and he admitted that there was a firearm inside. The defendant was arrested and charged with various Massachusetts gun crimes. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the officers lacked reason to search him or his vehicle.

The court began its analysis by noting that the initial traffic stop was legal, as the defendant’s car was observed to have a cracked windshield and expired registration. The court also noted that the defendant voluntarily exited his vehicle, leaving the only question for the court to answer being whether the officers had legal justification to patfrisk the defendant and to search his car.

The court found that the patfrisk of the defendant was not justified. The court explained that police officers can only perform a limited search of the outside portion of a person’s clothes if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and dangerous. The Commonwealth argued that the defendant’s decision to exit his vehicle without prompting resulted in the officers fearing for their safety.

While the court credited the officers’ subjective fear for their safety, it also held that fear of personal safety is not enough to conduct a patfrisk. The court explained that an officer’s legitimate safety concern may be enough to ask a motorist out of the vehicle, but such fears must be accompanied by a reasonable belief that a person is armed and dangerous before a patfrisk can be legally conducted. Thus, the defendant’s motion was granted.

Have You Been Arrested for Massachusetts Gun Possession?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a Massachusetts gun possession offense, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy for immediate assistance. Attorney Murphy is a well-respected and aggressive Boston criminal defense attorney who has significant experience representing clients who face all types of serious allegations. Attorney Murphy regularly represents clients in and around the Boston area in drug and gun cases, and also handles motor vehicle offenses, theft crimes, and drunk driving cases. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation today, call 617-367-0450 today.

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