Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts drug trafficking case requiring the court to determine if a police officer’s traffic stop that ultimately led to the discovery of narcotics was longer than necessary, and thus was conducted in violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights. Ultimately, the court determined that the arresting officer exceeded his authority when he continued to ask questions of the defendants after they provided information that would have been sufficient to allow the officer to verify their identities.
The Facts of the Case
The defendants were an African-American man and woman, both of whom were passengers in a car driven by a white female. As the three were traveling along the highway, a police officer noticed that the vehicle’s rear tail light was out. The officer pulled the vehicle over.
As the officer approached, he began to question the driver about the identity of the passengers. The driver identified the passengers as two friends, “J” and “T.” The officer noticed that the driver’s voice was trembling, and she appeared nervous, and also the two defendants were not wearing seatbelts.
The officer requested the identification of the two defendants. One defendant provided a New York license, and the other did not have any identification on him but provided his name and date of birth. However, neither of the names provided to the officer began with the letter “J” or “T,” and the officer became suspicious of the three occupants.
The officer then called for back-up, which arrived a short time later. Once back-up arrived, the two officers began questioning each of the three occupants individually about how they knew each other. The three gave varying answers, further increasing the officers’ suspicions. Then, the officers put the male defendant in handcuffs, frisked him, and explained that they suspected the three of drug trafficking.
Ultimately, the driver admitted that she was asked to pick up the defendants and transport them, and she knew they would have drugs on them but not which kind. The officers later found narcotics in the defendants’ possession and charged them with drug trafficking.
The Court’s Opinion
At trial, the defendants argued that the police officer unconstitutionally prolonged the traffic stop past the point at which it was necessary to identify the vehicle’s occupants, and as a result of this infringement, any evidence discovered as a result should be suppressed. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion to suppress, and the defendants appealed.
On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s decision and held that the defendants’ motion to suppress should have been granted. The court explained that under United States Supreme Court case law, an officer can only hold the occupants of a vehicle during a traffic stop for as long as it is necessary to investigate the reasons for the traffic stop.
Thus, in this case, the court explained that once the officer discovered that the defendants were not wearing their seatbelts, the officer had the right to request their information. However, once that information was provided, the officer should have determined whether it was correct, rather than assuming suspicious activity based on the fact that the driver provided information the officer determined was inconsistent with the names provided by the defendant. By unnecessarily extending the traffic stop, the officer violated the defendants’ constitutional rights, and the court held that the drugs should be suppressed.
Have You Been Arrested for a Boston Drug Crime?
If you have recently been arrested for a Boston drug crime, you should call the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy. Attorney Patrick J. Murphy has over 22 years of experience representing those charged with serious felony and misdemeanor crimes in and around the Boston area. Through diligent and zealous representation, Attorney Murphy proudly defends the rights of those accused of all types of Massachusetts crimes. Call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated Boston drug trafficking attorney today.
More Blog Posts:
Massachusetts Court Determines Defendant’s Statement Was Involuntary in Light of Improper Police Assurances, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published April 11, 2018
The Use of Confidential Informants in Boston Drug Crime Cases, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published March 20, 2018