The Supreme Judicial Court today tossed a man's conviction for illegal possession of a loaded gun because the Boston cops who pulled him over initially didn't really have a good enough reason to do so.
Bruno Pinto was pulled over in South Boston one night in 2013 by officers who had responded to a radio call to be on the lookout for his car after a 911 caller reported "somebody connected with the car" had just beaten a family or household member and was on his way to his mother's house on Orton Marotta Way with two guns.
An officer ordered the two men to put their hands in plain view, but then ordered the driver out when, after complying, he moved one hand down, out of the officer's view. A search of the car found a gun under his seat.
In its ruling today, the state's highest court ruled the officers did not have the required "reasonable suspicion" to order Pinto out of the car and search under his seat.
At an initial hearing on suppressing the gun as evidence, the officer who arrested Pinto at first said he stopped the car because he thought the radio call came after the victim of the alleged attack had reported it at a local police station, which might have been enough to establish "reasonable suspicion" that the specific vehicle reported by the 911 caller was involved in a crime.
But when a defense attorney questioned whether the victim actually went to a police station, the officer responded he didn't really say that's what happened, that he didn't know how the alleged crime was reported, the SJC ruling states.
When pressed by the judge further, he gave an equivocal answer.
At that point, the judge agreed to strike any evidence about how the alleged domestic attack was reported, but allowed the gun as evidence, because the "reasonable suspicion" standard was met since police stopped the car near Orton Marotta Way, which is where it was supposedly headed. A jury convicted Pinto for possession of a gun without a license and possession of a loaded firearm.
Big mistake, the state's highest court ruled. Without the domestic-assault angle, there really wasn't any particular reason to pull Pinto's car over because the officers no longer had the "indicia of reliability of the transmitted information" that was their main reason for stopping the car, let alone ordering Pinto out and searching the car, the court ruled.
The radio broadcast itself did not contain any details that would suggest that the person providing the information had firsthand knowledge of the alleged domestic incident. ...
The Commonwealth similarly failed to establish the veracity of the radio broadcast. To satisfy the veracity test, the Commonwealth needs to show the source of information had either a demonstrated history of reliability ... or the existence of "circumstances assuring trustworthiness on the particular
occasion of the information's being furnished," 2 W.R. LaFave, Search & Seizure § 3.3(c) (5th ed. 2012). ...
In the present case, the content of the radio broadcast was devoid of any detail as to whether the information came from a declarant in an excited state, whether it came from a percipient witness to the abuse, or whether it bore any other similar indications of trustworthiness.
Finally, the police did not provide adequate independent corroboration to remedy the deficiencies under either test. The only police corroboration was that the defendant was in the general vicinity of Orton Marotta Way and driving a vehicle that matched the description given over the radio. The motion judge's conclusion that the radio broadcast was corroborated by the fact that the vehicle was near the house of the defendant's mother is not supported by the record. To the contrary, no evidence was presented that the police had information independent of the radio broadcast that the mother lived on Orton Marotta Way. ... Since the motion judge's findings were devoid of the source of any information in the radio broadcast, police observation of the defendant's vehicle in the general area as predicted was not enough independent corroboration to meet the reasonable suspicion standard.