When a Boston Police detective found Michael Holloway trespassing at a BHA project in Roxbury in 2010, he testified, Holloway couldn't identify the brand of one of the two mountain bikes he had with him. Holloway was arrested for trespassing and, when the bikes turned out be have been reported stolen, receiving stolen property.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court, however, ruled today that the bikes cannot be used as evidence against Holloway, because the detective never had probable cause to seize them without a warrant.
In its opinion, which upholds a trial judge's similar ruling, the court said the detective had no "definite and substantial" reason to suspect the bikes might be stolen - and a hunch just won't cut it in court:
[A]t the moment of seizure, the officer was without knowledge, definite or otherwise, of a reported bicycle theft in the area or that the bicycles were otherwise related to criminal activity. We disagree that the defendant's apparent lack of specific knowledge of the bicycle brand, and his alleged apathy regarding the security of an expensive bicycle after his arrest, permitted a reasonable inference that the bicycle was stolen; instead, while the circumstances understandably raised suspicion, without more information this conclusion remained speculative. The record lacks any evidence suggesting that, when observed and seized, the bicycles located near the defendant were apparently stolen.
In a footnote, the court adds its ruling doesn't mean Holloway gets to keep the bikes:
Obviously, once seized, item(s) shown to have been stolen need not be returned to anyone other than the rightful owner.