In a recent firearm case coming out of a Massachusetts court, the Commonwealth appealed a lower court’s decision in favor of a defendant who had been charged with two firearm offenses. Reviewing the Commonwealth’s appeal, the court of appeals agreed with the lower court and sided with the defendant, concluding that the officers that found the firearm on the defendant’s person did not have the right to pat him down in the first place. Given this conclusion, the lower court’s decision in favor of the defendant was affirmed.
The Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant was stopped one evening after three police officers saw him make two abrupt turns in his vehicle. The officers activated their cruiser’s blue lights, and the defendant stopped his car. Once the officers approached the defendant in the driver’s seat, the defendant and one of the officers realized they were already familiar with each other. The officer had stopped the defendant five times over the course of several years, once arresting the defendant for possession of a firearm.
The officer asked the defendant if he still “messed” with firearms, and the defendant replied in the negative but invited the officer to take a look inside the vehicle if he thought it would be appropriate. The defendant emerged from the vehicle and took two or three steps away from the officer. At that time, another officer put himself behind the defendant, instructing him to move to the back of the car. That officer then grabbed the defendant, frisked him, and found a gun in his waistband. The defendant was charged with possession of a firearm.
The Appellate Decision
The defendant filed a motion to suppress the firearm, arguing that the officers did not have legal grounds to conduct the frisk. The trial court granted this motion to suppress, but the Commonwealth of Massachusetts filed an appeal to challenge the decision.
In considering the Commonwealth’s appeal, the higher court had to decide whether or not the officers’ suspicion of the defendant warranted a frisk of his person. The court looked at two main factors: first, the court considered the defendant’s prior criminal record. According to the court, even though one of the officers knew of this record, the knowledge was not enough to validate suspicions that the defendant had drugs or a firearm with him on the evening in question.
The second factor the court considered was the defendant’s behavior during the interaction. The court concluded that the defendant did not seem overly nervous, and that he was not agitated enough to make the officers think he might be hiding criminal activity. Because the defendant was acting reasonably, the officers did not have reason to seriously suspect illegal possession. Thus, the frisk was unwarranted and the firearm was properly suppressed.
Have You Been Charged with Firearm Possession in Massachusetts?
At the law office of Patrick J. Murphy, we offer representation for a variety of criminal charges, including firearm possession and other gun crimes in Massachusetts. We are a dedicated team that is devoted to providing caring, professional, and experienced guidance for each client. For a free and confidential consultation, call us at 617-367-0450.