Police Lacked Probable Cause to Search Rental Car Two Days After Shooting

In Commonwealth v. Korey Jordan, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled this week that police officers exceeded their authority in stopping a rental car that had been involved in a shooting two days earlier.

In April of 2009, a shooting occurred in Boston and a woman was injured.  After firing the gun, the shooter got into a rented Toyota Camry and drove away.  The victim described the shooter as a black man in his early 20s.  She also provided the license plate of the Camry.  Two days later, police officers found the Camry near the location of the shooting.  They watched as the two defendants, both young black men, got into the Camry and began driving away.  The police stopped the car, which they knew was a rental.  The defendants were trembling and appeared nervous.  The police ordered them out of the car and searched them, finding nothing.  The police then searched the inside of the Camry and discovered a gun.  The defendants were charged with illegal possession of a firearm.

The defendants filed a motion to suppress their stop and seizure by the police, arguing that there was not probable cause to believe they had committed a crime.  The SJC agreed.  The Court relied heavily on the fact that the car was rented and the police had no information about the renter or the rental agreement.  Additionally, the Court reasoned that two days was “more than sufficient time” to remove a gun from the car.  Finally, the victim’s vague description of the shooter as a young, black male, and the fact that the defendants appeared nervous while interacting with the police, did not constitute probable cause that the defendants were violating the law.

This case illustrates the importance of hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney who will aggressively defend you in the event you are charged with a crime.  Because the gun was ultimately suppressed in this case, the defendants avoided convictions for firearms charges that carry mandatory minimum jail sentences.