Court: Off-duty cop can take away the keys of a guy who's just rammed his car in another town
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today a Somerville police officer returning home to Woburn did nothing wrong when he grabbed the keys of a guy who plowed into him at a red light on Montvale Avenue.
Joseph Limone had his OUI conviction - his seventh - overturned by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, which said the officer had no right to detain Limone to await a Woburn cop because he was off duty, in another town and the principle of citizen arrest didn't apply because average joes can't detain somebody for a misdemeanor, such as first-time OUI, which is all the cop knew he was dealing with.
But the state's highest court ruled today that what Officer Robert Kelleher did wasn't an arrest at all, but something anybody might do when rammed by a guy who appeared to be drunk - to try to keep the guy from leaving until the police could arrive:
[W]e now hold that Kelleher's actions in telling the defendant to step out of the car, removing and retaining his keys from the ignition, and telling him to sit and wait in his car, fall short of an "arrest" sufficient to trigger the citizen's arrest rule. Instead, Kelleher's actions were more akin to an investigatory "stop," short of an arrest. In the circumstances of this case, it was reasonable for Kelleher--as it would be for a private citizen--to prolong the "stop" until the Woburn police arrived, in order to ensure the safety of the public and of the defendant himself. ...
Kelleher's removing the defendant's keys from the ignition after he smelled alcohol, and retaining them until Officer Simonds arrived, did not convert the interaction into an arrest. We have previously held, in the "Terry stop" context, that a police officer may take "reasonably prudent protective measure[s]" short of an arrest--including removal of a defendant's keys from the ignition--in order to prevent serious injury to the officer and bystanders. ... The critical inquiry in such cases is whether the degree of intrusion is reasonable in the circumstances.... Here, it is difficult to imagine a less intrusive manner by which Kelleher could have prevented injury to the public. He did not ask for a license and registration, did not investigate or collect evidence, did not perform field sobriety tests, nor did he touch the defendant or draw any weapon. He simply removed the defendant's keys to prevent further operation of the vehicle, returned to his own vehicle, and contacted the Woburn police.
Limone is now awaiting trial on his eighth OUI charge. He was arrested in Revere in July and indicted in September. He's due back in Suffolk Superior Court on Nov. 30.
His convictions date to 1970 in three counties.