A Lowell District Court judge today dismissed serious firearms charges against Attorney Chris Spring’s client after Attorney Spring successfully argued the stop that led to the discovery of the gun was unconstitutional. As a result, the defendant will not be subject to the mandatory minimum 18-month jail sentence that accompanies the charges he was facing.
On a cold night last November, the Tewksbury Police Department received a report that there was a large group of young people fighting in the Mobil Gas Station on Main Street. The 911 caller told the dispatcher there were five cars involved and as many as 20 participants in the fight. By the time police cruisers started arriving at the gas station, many of fighters had dispersed. One of the Tewksbury officers arrived at the scene and was watching his colleagues deal with occupants of a car across the street that might have been involved in the fight. At some point, this officer’s attention was drawn to the defendant as he walked through the gas station parking lot and toward the main road that leads toward Lowell. The officer believed the defendant had emerged from either behind the building or the side of the building, which the officer found to be suspicious. The officer called out to the defendant and asked if he could speak to him. The defendant continued to walk away. The officer asked a few more times to talk to the defendant, who ignored him. Finally, the officer ordered the defendant to stop. Because the officer believed the defendant might have been involved in the earlier fight and might be armed, he decided to patfrisk the defendant. However, when it turned out the defendant’s puffy coat was complicating the patfrisk, the officer lifted the defendant’s coat and saw the handle of a pistol tucked into his waistband. The officer immediately seized the weapon and the defendant was placed into custody. Officers did not advise the defendant of his Miranda rights before asking him if he had a license to carry the gun. The client responded that he did not. He was charged with several firearms offenses, including unlawfully carrying a firearm, which carries a mandatory jail sentence of 18 months.
Attorney Spring immediately conducted an investigation by visiting the gas station with the defendant and photographing areas that might support his legal argument in court. Attorney Spring filed a motion to suppress and argued: (1) the police lacked reasonable suspicion to believe the defendant was involved in criminal conduct to allow the officer to stop and patfrisk the defendant; (2) even if the patfrisk was constitutional, its scope was exceeded when the officer lifted up the defendant’s jacket; and (3) the police asked the defendant questions about his license while the defendant was in custody but before he was advised of his Miranda rights. Accordingly, the gun should be suppressed as the fruit of an unconstitutional search and the defendant’s statement should be suppressed as a result of the Miranda violation. Following a hearing, the judge allowed Attorney Spring’s motion to suppress the gun and the statement and the case was dismissed.
This case illustrates the importance of filing pretrial motions. If the motion to suppress had not been successful, the defendant would have had no trial defense and likely would have been convicted and sent to jail for 18 months. Motion practice can sometimes be the most important part of the litigation.