The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld a superior court judge’s decision to suppress two guns found in the interior wall of the defendant’s car. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Keene.
The defendant and his friend were hanging out at a Stoughton nightclub in the middle of an April night in 2013. A fight broke out, so the defendant and the friend began running away. A Stoughton cop stopped the men as the fled the club, and they told the cop they were trying to get away from the fight. The cop allowed them to continue on their way, but made note of the type of car in which they were leaving. Ten minutes after the defendant left, there was a shooting outside of the club. The cop who had previously made contact with the defendant put out a request that the defendant’s car be stopped and held by any police officer who found it. Shortly thereafter, Boston police officers found the defendant driving the car in Mattapan. The cops stopped the defendant’s car and ordered him and his passenger to exit at gunpoint. They were handcuffed and removed from the scene. A cop searched the car but did not find a gun. Next, the police brought a K9 (dog) unit to the car to conduct a more thorough search. The dog alerted the police to the driver’s side door armrest and two guns were found inside of the armrest. The defendant was indicted for unlawful possession of a gun.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress his stop and the seizure of the guns, arguing it was improper for the Boston Police to stop and search him. A superior court judge agreed with the defendant and allowed the motion to suppress. The Commonwealth appealed and the Appeals Court quickly affirmed the superior court judge’s order. The Court began its analysis by pointing out the Stoughton cops could not have reasonably believed the defendant was committing, about to commit, or had just committed a crime, as the defendant had left their presence 10 minutes before the gunshots sounded. Therefore, it was entirely improper for the Stoughton Police to order the defendant’s car be stopped and searched. The Commonwealth did not dispute the impropriety of the Stoughton stop and hold order. However, the Commonwealth urged the Appeals Court to rule that because the Boston Police acted in good faith by executing the stop and hold order, suppression of the guns is not necessary. As the Appeals Court put it, “[t]he Commonwealth misperceives the nature of the constitutional inquiry.” The question is not whether the arresting department acted in good faith by executing an order from another department – the inquiry is whether the department who issued the order in the first place had constitutional grounds to stop and seize the defendant. In this case, Stoughton clearly overstepped its authority by ordering the stop of the defendant, where he was nowhere near the scene of the shooting and had been gone for some 10 minutes.
It’s surprising the Commonwealth chose to appeal this suppression order, as the law could not be more clear. This case is another example of the importance of having an attorney who aggressively litigates suppression issues in court.