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Massachusetts Court of Appeals Affirms Firearms Conviction After Vehicle Stop

There are many instances in which life can change in a split second – a car accident, an injury at work, or, perhaps most unsettling of all, being arrested. In any of these events, it is important to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible, but this especially true in the case of being accused of a crime by a police officer. A Cape Cod criminal defense attorney can explain your legal rights and help you defend yourself in court. In the meantime, it is very important that you not speak to police about your case. You do have the right to remain silent, and anything you voluntarily say can be used to convict you later on.

Facts of the Case

The defendant in a recent appellate case was a man whose mother was pulled over allegedly failing to display a valid inspection sticker. As the officer approached the vehicle, he noticed that the defendant – who was a passenger in the right front seat – was not wearing a seat belt. Intending to ticket the defendant for this offense, the officer asked the defendant for his identification. As the defendant was giving the officer his identification, a dark-colored object, which the officer believed could possibly be a weapon, fell between the car seat and the console. After backup arrived, the officer ordered the defendant to step out of the car, arrested him on unrelated but outstanding warrants, and searched the vehicle. A loaded .38 caliber snub-nosed revolver was found.

The defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of a loaded firearm. At trial, the defendant’s mother testified that the gun was hers and that the defendant had no knowledge that it was in the vehicle. Nevertheless, the defendant was convicted on both charges. He appealed, alleging that the motion judge should have granted his motion to suppress the firearm, the evidence was insufficient to prove that the defendant was aware that the firearm in question was loaded, the prosecutor made comments in his closing argument that created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice, and the trial judge did not instruct the jury that the Commonwealth was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the firearm was loaded.

Decision of the Court

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction, holding that the motion to suppress the firearm from evidence at trial was properly denied insomuch as the stop of the vehicle was legal, the officer’s request for identification was proper, the defendant was lawfully arrested on active warrants, and it was reasonable for the officer to look under the front passenger seat to determine whether the object that he had observed earlier was, in fact, a weapon. In so holding, the court rejected the defendant’s contention that, because he was handcuffed and in the officer’s cruiser during the search, there was no continuing threat to the officer’s safety; two adults and three children were still in the car, and thus the threat to the officer’s safety and the safety of the vehicle’s occupants had not ceased, in the appellate court’s opinion.

The court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s determination that the defendant was aware that the gun was loaded. After all, the court reasoned, it was quite possible to discern whether that particular firearm was loaded simply by looking at it. The court likewise found no miscarriage of justice from the prosecutor’s remarks during closing argument.

Talk to a Cape Cod Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been arrested, there may be a lot more at stake than you realize. In addition to the jail time and fines associated with the offense of which you are accused, there can be many other negative consequences, especially if the crime at issue is a felony. To talk to a lawyer about how to defend yourself and protect your future, please contact the experienced Cape Cod criminal defense team at The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III. Call us at 888-262-6664 for an appointment.