The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed the guilty finding against a juvenile who was carrying a gun in Roxbury in 2015. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Shane S.
A man named Dion Ruiz had a pending criminal case charging him with a shooting. He had been released with the condition that he wear a GPS bracelet and stay away from the area of Washington and Ruggles Streets in Roxbury, where the victim lived. When Ruiz walked near that intersection, the Boston Police Department received a notification. An officer obtained a photo of Ruiz and began searching for him. During the search, the officer saw the juvenile defendant jog toward Ruiz with both hands near his belt buckle and his elbows sticking out toward the side. The officer considered it an unusual way to jog, and based on his training and experience suspected the defendant might be carrying a weapon. Two other uniformed cops arrived on scene and found the defendant and Ruiz together. One of the officers asked if he could talk to them and the defendant ran away. The officer watched him flee and again saw him running in a peculiar manner – the defendant’s right arm was pinned against his body while his left arm was swinging freely. The officer believed the defendant was carrying a gun and decided to run after him. The officer did not yell out at the defendant or let the defendant know he was being followed. The officer watched him stop near the side of a building, bend over, and then continue to run away. The officer finally caught up to the defendant and when he put his hand on the defendant’s chest, he could feel his heard beating very quickly. The defendant was handcuffed and when the officer returned to the area next to the building where the defendant had bent over, he found a loaded gun. The defendant was charged with illegally carrying the gun. He filed a motion to suppress the gun, which was denied by the trial judge. After his conviction, the defendant appealed.
The Court needed to decide the point at which the police had seized the defendant. A seizure occurs in the constitutional sense if, in view of all of the circumstances, a reasonable person in the defendant’s shoes would not have felt free to leave. It has been established that police surveillance does not constitute a seizure. Police officers can watch a person in public places – and even follow him around – with no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. A seizure also does not ordinarily occur when a cop asks to speak to a person on the street (unless the questioning becomes “sufficiently intimidating). The question, then, is whether the officer had seized the defendant when he began chasing him. Under federal law, a person is not seized until a police officer has laid hands upon him. However, in Massachusetts, a seizure can occur during the chase. But the facts in this case did not support the defendant’s claim that a seizure occurred before the officer put a hand on his chest. The cop did not order the defendant to stop and there was no evidence that the defendant even realized he was being chased. Because under these circumstances the defendant would not have believed he was not free to leave, a seizure did not occur while the defendant was running away. Therefore, the gun that was discarded by the defendant was properly entered into evidence and the defendant’s conviction was likewise proper.