The attorneys at the Law Offices of Samuel Goldberg, legal counsel to Altman & Altman, LLP recently walked out of Brighton Municipal Court with a huge victory for the civil rights of one our clients. As a result of our success, our client’s drug case is likely to be dismissed. Below is a brief set of facts describing the case and the legal reasoning of the judge for granting our motion to suppress.
It was a cold February night at approximately 7pm, when officers from the Boston Police Department observed a car (our client aka the “Defendant”) enter the parking lot of an apartment building. The police were staking out this parking lot due to recent complaints of suspected drug activity. Less than two-minutes after the Defendant entered the parking lot, a white male, known to the officers as a known drug user, exited the building and entered the front passenger side of the Defendant’s motor vehicle. There was no testimony as to how the officers knew the white male, or what drugs this person was known to use. Officers testified that they could not make any real observations of what the suspects were doing while inside the motor vehicle. The white male then exited the motor vehicle after a brief stay and returned to the building. The Defendant then exited the parking lot and turned right on to North Beacon Street, proceeding towards Cambridge Street.
Officers do not pursue the white male; they do however, initiate a traffic stop of Defendant, while he is stopped at a red light in front of 15 North Beacon Street. The Officers testified that while the Defendant was stopped at a red light, one officer approached the driver’s side of the vehicle while the other officer approached the passenger side. Both Officers placed their badges on the window and told the Defendant to stop his motor vehicle. The Defendant was then removed from the vehicle for “safety concerns.” The Defendant then made some incriminating statements regarding drugs in the motor vehicle. The Officers then searched the Defendant’s vehicle and allegedly found a significant amount of what they believed to be cocaine.
We brought a motion to suppress the initial stop of the vehicle, the statements that the Defendant made, as well as any evidence that the officers found as a result of the search of the vehicle. The argument we made to the judge was that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion for the initial stop, and therefore everything that happened after the invalid stop should be suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
The Court summed up the evidence as follows, “the sum of the observations that the officers made were that a vehicle pulled into the parking lot of a location of suspected drug activity (as reported by the public since there was no evidence presented of any arrests made from this location), that it parked for a short period of time, that a man known to the officers as a drug abuser (no evidence was proffered as to whether he lived in the building, the type of drugs he abused or the basis of the knowledge) exited the location and entered the vehicle, and that he returned to the building after about 30 seconds.”
After the hearing the judge found that, “the information that the officers had in this matter was significantly less than what the Massachusetts Appeals Court have deemed as a mere hunch.” The judge concluded his opinion by stating, “the officers did not have reasonable suspicion that a crime had occurred and insufficient evidence to conduct a threshold inquiry of the defendant. Accordingly, the subsequent seizure of the defendant and drugs was impermissible and the defendant’s motion to suppress is ALLOWED.”
With the evidence of the drugs suppressed, the Commonwealth has nothing to present to a jury to win their case. After a decision is made on a motion to suppress, the losing party has 30 days to appeal that decision. If the Commonwealth does not appeal the decision, or appeals the decision and loses the appeal, the case will be dismissed and the client gets to go on with his life.
One might argue that in this case a guilty person was allowed to get off scot-free because of a technicality. This argument seems valid on its face, however, when you look at what the defendant had gone through since the arrest, you would agree that he has been punished. The defendant had to spend the night in jail, had to hire a private attorney, posted bail, faced potential immigration issues, now has a criminal record, and has taken many days off from work in order to appear in court.
Furthermore, and far more important, this is not a mere technicality, this is a violation of someone’s 4th Amendment Rights against illegal search and seizure. The suppression of the evidence acts as a deterrent to the police from violating an innocent person’s civil rights. If the police were to stop an innocent person, based on a mere hunch, that person’s rights would have been violated and that person would have little to no recourse against the officer. A civilian is allowed to file a complaint with the police department; however, absent any physical injury the police are protected by statute against any civil law suits or other repercussions, as long they are not acting maliciously. An experienced defense attorney will not only fight against the evidence provided by the Commonwealth but will also fight to protect your rights.