There is a large branch of case law devoted to the issues of when a police officer can pull over a vehicle, when that vehicle can be searched, and when the occupants thereof can be made to exit the vehicle. This body of the law holds many general principles, but oftentimes the outcome of, say, a Cape Cod criminal defense case, is dependent on the specific facts presented therein.
For example, what prompted the officer to pull over the vehicle? What did he or she observe when approaching the vehicle? Was any additional information obtained from nearby witnesses?
Facts of the Case
In a recent criminal case considered on appeal, the defendant had been convicted on charges of unlawfully carrying a firearm (and unlawfully carrying a loaded firearm) in violation of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 269, § 10(a) and (n). He appealed, arguing that it had been error for the arresting officer to order him to get out of the vehicle in which he had been riding based on information obtained by a private security guard from employees of a nearby nightclub.
According to testimony offered by the Commonwealth at trial, the nightclub employees informed the security guard (who in turn told the arresting officer) that the occupants of the vehicle had been asked to leave the nightclub earlier in the evening and that a passerby had later informed the employees that the occupants of the vehicle had a firearm in their possession. When the officer told the defendant to get out of his seat in the vehicle, it was discovered that the defendant had been sitting on a gun when the vehicle had been pulled over.
Decision of the Court
The Commonwealth Appeals Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The defendant argued on appeal that his conviction should be overturned because the trial court had committed reversible error when it denied his motion to suppress the firearm that the officer found when the defendant stepped out of the vehicle in which he had been riding when the driver was pulled over. According to the defendant, the officer’s decision to make him exit the vehicle did not pass the two-pronged test established by the cases of Aguilar v. Texas and Spinelli v. U.S. and thus, the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to force him from the vehicle.
In rejecting the defendant’s plea for a reversal of his conviction, the appeals court first pointed out that the Aguilar-Spinelli test was not applicable to the facts presented in the case at bar. Rather, the court found that the officer’s action was constitutional insomuch as it was grounded in “specific, articulate facts and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom” – in other words, more than just “on a hunch.” In so holding, the court noted that the nightclub employees stayed at the scene and were subject to identification. Furthermore, the found that officer was justified in taking prudent precautions for his own safety.
Seek Counsel About a Criminal Matter in Massachusetts
As this case shows, a seemingly simple traffic stop can result in serious repercussions not only for the driver of the vehicle but for the occupants as well. The area of criminal law is constantly evolving, and it is important that someone who has been accused of a crime be represented by legal counsel who stays current on developments in this area of the law. To schedule a consultation about your Hyannis or Plymouth area arrest with an experienced Cape Cod criminal defense attorney, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III at 888-262-6664.