In a recent decision from a court in Massachusetts, a lower court’s ruling that incriminating evidence should be suppressed was reversed. Originally, a lower court had determined that because a state trooper did not have sufficient reason to pull over the defendant on the highway, the drugs found in the defendant’s car should not be used against him in court. The higher court disagreed, saying the trooper did, in fact, have reason to pull the defendant over in the first place. It was thus acceptable for the State to use the incriminating evidence against the defendant at trial.
The Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant was driving on the highway when a state police trooper conducted a random check on the defendant’s vehicle to find out if it was properly registered. As a result, the trooper learned that the vehicle had failed its most recent inspection approximately two weeks earlier.
During this check of the vehicle, the officer did not look into whether the car had failed inspection because of a safety violation or because of an emissions-based failure. In Massachusetts, the law says that if a car experiences an emissions-based failure, it can still be driven for sixty days following a failed inspection since it is not an immediate safety threat to people on the road. By failing to inquire as to whether the vehicle failed inspection because of safety violations or because of emissions-based violations, the officer also failed to gather all of the necessary information about whether or not the vehicle’s driver was operating his car lawfully or unlawfully.
During the traffic stop, the trooper ran the defendant’s license and learned that he had an open warrant. The trooper arrested him on the warrant and the defendant was charged with possession of the drugs that the trooper later found in the back seat of the vehicle. The defendant argued at trial that the drugs should be suppressed because the trooper’s traffic stop was unwarranted and unreasonable.
The Court’s Decision
At trial, the judge ruled that the state trooper did not, in fact, have “reasonable suspicion” to justify the traffic stop. The trooper should have checked if the defendant was lawfully driving his vehicle, and if he had failed his inspection based on emissions, the trooper would not have had any reason to pull him over. Because the trooper failed to conduct this check, his traffic stop was unreasonable.
The higher court disagreed with the lower court’s ruling. The court said that it was acceptable for the trooper to assume that the vehicle was being operated impermissibly, even without evidence to support that conclusion. It would not be reasonable, said the court, to require troopers to look into the reason behind every vehicle’s inspection failure on the road. All that the public can expect police officers to do is to pull vehicles over and conduct an investigation into the inspection failure from there.
The court ultimately reversed the lower court’s ruling and determined it was acceptable for the drug evidence found during the traffic stop to be used against the defendant in court. The defendant was found guilty of one count of possession of a class B drug with the intent to distribute and one count of possession of a class A drug with the intent to distribute.
Have You Been Charged with Drug Possession in Massachusetts?
If you or a loved one has been charged with drug possession in Massachusetts, there may be defenses available to you that can help fight your case. At the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy, we are familiar with the legal landscape in Massachusetts and we will walk you through your options to make sure that your voice is heard. For your free consultation, give us a call at 617-367-0450.