Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts car theft case discussing whether the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers had probable cause to believe that the car was stolen and that the defendant was in possession of the car, but not that the defendant knew the car was stolen. Thus, the court suppressed the post-arrest statements made by the defendant, because his arrest was illegal.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was seen leaning next to a car. As police drove by, they ran the car’s plates and determined that the vehicle was stolen. The police observed the defendant open the car door, throw something in, and then close the door. The defendant eventually got into the car through the passenger’s side door and sat down in the front passenger seat. There was no one else in the car.
Based on their observations, the police arrested the defendant. After his arrest, the defendant admitted to knowing that the car was stolen. The defendant was charged with receipt of stolen property.
In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that his statement admitting his knowledge that the car was stolen should be suppressed because it was given after an illegal arrest. Specifically, the defendant argued that the police did not have probable cause to believe that he was in possession of the car or that he knew the car was stolen.
The Court’s Opinion
The court began by noting that to arrest someone for receipt of a stolen car a police officer must have probable cause to believe that 1.) the car was stolen, 2.) the defendant was in possession of the car, and 3.) the defendant knew the car was stolen. The defendant acknowledged that the police had probable cause to believe the car was stolen but challenged the remaining two elements.
The court determined that police had probable cause to believe the defendant was in possession of the car. The court acknowledged that being in the vicinity of a stolen car is not sufficient to establish possession. Here, however, the court noted that the defendant was not only leaning on the car, but tossed an item into the car and then got inside the vehicle. Also, the court noted that there was nobody else in or around the vehicle. These facts, the court held, gave rise to a reasonable belief that the defendant was in possession of the car.
Next, the court considered whether the defendant knew the car was stolen. The court explained that a defendant’s knowledge can be proven by circumstantial evidence. However, here, the court found none. The court noted that there was no evidence presented by the prosecution indicating that the defendant knew the vehicle was stolen when he got inside. Absent this evidence, the police did not have probable cause to believe the defendant committed a crime and thus, his arrest was illegal. Because the defendant’s arrest was unlawful, any statement he made after his arrest must be suppressed.
Have You Been Arrested?
If you have recently been arrested and then made an admission or other potentially harmful statements, there may be grounds to suppress your statements. Attorney Christopher M. Simon is a dedicated Boston criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of cases, including Boston theft crimes. To learn more, call 404-259-7635 to schedule a free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Court Reverses OUI Conviction Based on State Trooper’s Conflicting Testimony, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published February 13, 2019
Massachusetts Court Discusses Prosecution’s Obligation to Provide Police Officer Personnel Files, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published February 26, 2019