The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that heroin found in a car after the driver was pulled over for a traffic infraction can't be used as evidence against him or his passenger, because the only reason state troopers ordered the two men out was the aroma of burned pot, which by itself is no longer an indication of criminal activity in Massachusetts.
The two men were under surveillance by state troopers when they left the home of a man suspected of murder in 2009. When the driver failed to signal a turn, troopers pulled them over and, on the basis of the pot odor, ordered them out and searched the car - finding a bag of heroin in the car's center console. The two men then tried running away, but were quickly recaptured.
But for the second time this year, the court ruled that absent any other indication of criminal activity, the odor of pot is no longer enough to order somebody out of a car. The rulings come in the wake of a decision by the Supreme Judicial Court last year to toss similar evidence found after a Jamaica Plain man was pulled over and ordered out after cops smelled pot.
Prosecutors said the troopers also had "a reasonable fear for their safety" because of the link between the car and the murder suspect, but the court rejected that argument because the two men troopers saw getting into the car were white, while the suspect was dark-skinned.
The court did give prosecutors a tiny victory. The two men initially argued the stop itself was illegal because the failure to signal didn't cause any other drivers any problems. The court, however, said, sorry, you need to signal even if the traffic is only "light."