The Massachusetts Appeals Court today reversed a Suffolk Superior Court judge’s decision that denied the defendant’s motion to suppress a gun and drugs found in his clothes following an arrest by an undercover Boston cop. The Appeals Court ruled the cop lacked reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Chin-Clarke.
On January 27, 2017, an undercover Boston police officer was walking on Boylston Street near Washington and Tremont Streets. The officer testified there is considerable criminal activity in the area, which is frequented by a lot of people who are drug addicts. While walking near a homeless shelter, the cop saw three men, including the defendant, looking into a plastic shopping bag containing clothing. Some of the clothes still had the tags attached, and the cop heard one of the men ask the price of one of the articles. Although the cop did not see security devices attached to any of the clothes and had not received reports of shoplifting, he decided to approach the men to investigate. He walked up to the group, identified himself as a police officer, and said, “What’s up guys. Is that stuff stolen?” The man holding the clothes gave conflicting stories about where he obtained the merchandise. The cop told the defendant, who was standing nearby, to stand next to the wall of the homeless shelter and take his hands out of his pocket. The defendant initially complied, but appeared nervous and fidgety. When asked for his identification, the defendant gave a false name. As the investigation progressed, the defendant placed his hands back into his pockets. A second officer arrived and decided to place the defendant into handcuffs while trying to determine his identity. The defendant resisted being handcuffed and struck one of the cops in the chest. Other officers arrived on the scene and were able to subdue the defendant. After the defendant was handcuffed, the officers searched him and found a loaded gun, nine bags of heroin, and 23 bags of crack cocaine in his pants. The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing he had been improperly searched by the cops. A superior court judge denied the motion, but the Appeals Court reversed in a 2-1 decision.
The Court concluded the defendant had been seized by the police at the time he was ordered to stand by wall and ordered to identify himself. Seizure occurs when a reasonable person receives an order he understands would be enforced by police power. In this case, the defendant understood the cop would have enforced his order for the defendant to stand hear the wall. The question is whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to believe the defendant was breaking the law at the moment the defendant was seized. The Court pointed out that the cop did not detect any clues that the clothes had been shoplifted, but even if there was evidence of theft, the defendant was simply standing nearby. The cop did not know the defendant prior to the date of his arrest and the cop did not receive reports of a crime having been committed. In sum, there was no evidence the defendant was involved in criminal activity, and he should not have been placed in handcuffs. Accordingly, the gun and drugs will be inadmissible against the defendant.