A Lowell District Court judge today ruled a Billerica police officer violated Attorney Chris Spring’s client’s constitutional rights when he searched the defendant’s car without his consent. As a result, the case against the defendant has been dismissed.
A Billerica police officer was on routine patrol in the middle of the night when he saw the defendant sitting in a car that was stopped on the side of the road in a non-residential neighborhood. The cop testified during the motion to suppress hearing that there had been considerable criminal activity in the neighborhood. Arrests had been made for drug and prostitution crimes in addition to larcenies and burglaries. The cop pulled his cruiser next to the defendant and motioned to the defendant to lower his window. The defendant did so and told the cop he was lost. When asked where he was going, the defendant said he was on his way to his girlfriend’s house in Chelmsford and his GPS had led him astray. The defendant then told the cop he would drive to a nearby gas station to get directions. The defendant drove away. The cop, deciding that he was not satisfied with the conversation, followed the defendant to the gas station. He ran the license plate on the defendant’s car and learned it belonged to a woman in Chelmsford. When the defendant arrived at the gas station, the cop confronted him and demanded he identify himself. The conversation led to the cop learning the defendant’s driver’s license had been suspended. The cop arrested the defendant and decided to search his car. There was a large quantity of narcotics in the car. The defendant was charged with possession with intent to distribute a number of controlled substances, including crystal meth. He also had heroin and hypodermic syringes in his vehicle.
Attorney Spring filed a motion to suppress the drugs, arguing the police officer’s seizure of his client, and subsequent search of his client’s car, was without constitutional justification. In order to seize (prevent him from walking away) an individual, a police officer must at least have a reasonable suspicion based on specific and articulable facts that the individual has violated, is violating, or is about to violate the law. Otherwise, the person interacting with the police officer has the absolute right to discontinue the conversation and walk away. The question in this case was whether the officer had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity at the time he ordered the defendant to identify himself at the gas station. The judge correctly concluded reasonable suspicion was missing in this case. There was nothing about the defendant’s conduct when he was parked on the side of the road that suggested he was engaged in criminal activity. The defendant spoke to the officer on the side of the road and told him why he was parked. He had every right to drive away from the cop, and he could not be punished for doing so. The defendant’s car was searched only after the defendant was improperly seized by the cop. Therefore, the evidence found in the car was so-called fruit of the poisonous tree (in other words, if the cop had not illegally stopped the defendant, he never would have discovered the contraband).
Because the judge allowed the motion to suppress, the Commonwealth had no evidence and was forced to dismiss the case. If you are charged with a crime as a result of a police officer searching your home, your car, or your belongings, you should immediately consult with a criminal defense attorney to determine if the evidence can be challenged in court.