The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today ruled that Boston police officers unlawfully stopped the defendant’s car and therefore, the gun that was found underneath his seat should have been suppressed. As a result, the defendant’s convictions were overturned and the case will now be dismissed. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Pinto.
Two Boston cops were on patrol in South Boston when they received a radio dispatch asking them to look for a white Infiniti car with a certain license plate. The dispatch stated someone who had some connection to the vehicle was being investigated for committing a domestic assault and battery. The dispatch also reported the person might be in possession of guns and might be driving toward his mother’s house on a certain street. About two hours later, the cops found the car in the area of the mother’s home. After pulling over the car, the officers ordered the defendant (who was driving) and his passenger to place their hands in view. After initially complying, the defendant moved his hand down toward his leg and out of view of the officers. As a result, the cops ordered him to get out of the car and conducted a search. Underneath the driver’s seat was a loaded gun. The defendant was charged in the Boston Municipal Court (BMC) with carrying a firearm without a license.
Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the stop and subsequent search of his car. A BMC judge conducted an evidentiary hearing and denied the motion. The judge reasoned the police had reasonable suspicion to stop the car because they had independently corroborated the information contained in the dispatch that the car would be headed toward the driver’s mother’s house. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed with the BMC judge’s conclusion. The Commonwealth was obligated to prove the dispatch relied upon by the police officers bore a sufficient indicia of reliability. In order to do so, the prosecutor needed to have established: (1) the person giving the information about the car to the police had a sufficient basis of knowledge (for example, did the individual personally see the alleged assault and battery or just hear about it from another person?); and (2) the person giving the information was trustworthy. The Court concluded the Commonwealth had not satisfied either prong of the test. There were no details in the dispatch about how the reporting party knew the details he was providing. There were also no details about the reporting party’s identity (for example, had he provided reliable information in the past or did he have a reputation for honesty?) that would allow a judge to find that he was trustworthy.
Because the police officers lacked reasonable suspicion that the defendant had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime, it was unconstitutional for them to stop the defendant’s car. Accordingly, the search that yielded the gun was illegal and the gun should have been suppressed. The case will now be remanded to the BMC and it will need to be dismissed because without the gun, the prosecution will have no evidence.