Man's gun convictions overturned because the 911 call that led to his arrest was too vague and officers had no corroboration

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 ยง 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.

Neighborhoods: 

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Comments

The BPD: trying their hardest

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The BPD: trying their hardest to take illegal guns off the street.

The SJC: trying their hardest to release illegal guns back onto the streets.

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The SJC

The SJC: trying their hardest to release illegal guns back onto the streets,make sure everyone follows the law, even the police.

Fixed it for you

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The police received a report of a crime

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and a description of a vehicle. Upon stopping that vehicle and questioning the occupant, they discovered a weapon that was not legally registered to the occupant of the vehicle. Based on discovery of the illegal weapon, they arrested the suspect. IANAL, but unless there is any evidence that the suspect actually had a license for the weapon, the arrest should stand.

If giving greater credence to a defense lawyer's claim that "OMG, the person called 911 instead of appearing at the police station in person" instead of to the officers who DID THEIR JOB by responding to a report of a crime and finding something illegal - that may have been related to that crime - in the process is somehow following the law, then perhaps we need to think about changing the law to better protect the average citizen against criminals instead of giving criminals excuses to evade responsibility for breaking it. That's how our justice system is SUPPOSED to work.

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There are two parts to the justice system

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One is that, yes, cops arrest bad people doing bad things (or about to be doing them).

Until the Constitution is repealed, however, they are also supposed to follow certain procedures so that good people doing innocent things are not simply arrested and thrown in prison.

Among these are having a reason for stopping somebody in the street. A cop can't simply act on a hunch or stop somebody because he's pissed off or annoyed or whatever.

Perfect system? No. Does it mean some bad guys go free? Yes. Does it means fewer innocent people get tossed behind bars? Yes.

And does it mean police have to be extra careful before stopping somebody? Yes.

Compare this case to another gun case from just last week. Same court, same justices, different outcome.

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I appreciate you posting about this

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Comments sections on news sites often give the impression that most people don't understand or believe in the basics of American civics.

Still, stores like this particular one bother me, because it's not obvious to me why the evidence couldn't be admitted in this case, so I worry about it fueling the unconstitutional sentiment of people who didn't pay attention in school.

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Slippery slope

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If the courts don't check the police, then the police have no incentive to be careful who they arrest.

Because the courts will throw out evidence obtained improperly, the police exercise care in who they stop and how they handle them. Without that check on their behavior, some LEO would simply stop people with no pretext at all, knowing if they find something it can still be used. Innocent people will be stopped and searched and possibly arrested for nothing other than the officer felt like it (see also "driving while black").

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No, not arrested for nothing Kelly.

These people were criminals (they had an illegal firearm), and would still be charged in probably 40/50 states. (Massachusetts has a separate standard for veracity and knowledge where most states, and the federal government use the totality of the circumstances base).

Having no pretext at all is also a false statement. The police had something here, just no enough to satisfy the veracity of one court.

Driving while black was always illegal, and would never stand in any court.

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The BPD: trying their hardest

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The BPD: trying their hardest to take illegal guns off the street.

The SJC: trying their hardest to release illegal guns back onto the streets.

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Wait

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So, someone sounding frantic and/or telling the operator their relation to the person and source of information gives probable cause, but being elusive as to who they are and speaking quietly as people do when they can't risk being found out by the abusive/irrational person doesn't?

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Yes eeka.

But it also depends on who the judge is.

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I wish our courts spent as

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I wish our courts spent as much time protecting the rights of legal gun owners as they do of illegal gun owners.

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Examples needed

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Please provide examples of where they have not done so.

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1976 SJC ruling turning the

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1976 SJC ruling turning the state and federal 2A into dead letter in Massprudence onward.

Also known as the "because guns!" legal doctrine.

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This is bewildering

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If I'm reading this right (and I've tried to get through it a couple of times, with varying success), the officer performing the traffic stop didn't actually have any knowledge of whether or not the car he was pulling over had been involved in a crime. That means one of three things.

First, that he stopped this guy for suspicion of driving while brown, and then made up the 911 call after the fact to justify the guns he happened to find. No one even hints at that, so I'll dismiss it out of hand.

Second, that duty officers are supposed to double-check the veracity of police broadcasts, before performing any action based upon those broadcasts, because whoever made the 911 call might not have firsthand knowledge. That's what the SJC seems to be arguing here, but it's so utterly insane that I keep looking for the gotcha that explains it. So far no luck. How exactly are officers supposed to do ANYTHING if they're required to get independent corroboration of any radio broadcasts?

Third (and literally the only way this makes the slightest bit of sense to me), a defense attorney went full-court-press on the officer making the arrest, who tripped on his own story and gave a conflicting version of events, including what his reasoning for the stop was.

Regardless, this looks like a terrible ruling on its face, and I look forward to hearing it broken down by someone of a better legal mind than me.

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It's all about the evidence the BPD presented at the hearing

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It seems like the SJC was reacting to the dearth of evidence presented by the BPD that explained why they thought the initial report was credible. The only officer present at the hearing did not know how the initial report was made, so the BPD presented literally no evidence to support any claim that someone in the car had committed or was about to commit a domestic assault. It the testifying officer had been able to state how the initial report was made (in person at the station, by 911, etc.), then that probably would have sufficed.

Beat cops don't have to independently verify radio calls that they hear, but someone does. Without evidence that anyone had done so before the officers stopped the car (two hours later), there was no basis for stopping the car.

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Police academy needs to add English, drop LGBTQ classes

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In my police experience, it's all about report writing. One of my best gun arrests was from a car I followed for miles before realizing there was a slight crack in the windshield. Ex-girlfriend wouldn't give her name, but I trusted that she knew about the gun and it's location in the car. If you don't have a named caller/witness, but believe the occupant has a gun or other contraband, merely follow the car until it makes a turn without blinker, unsafe lane change, defective equipment (cracked bumper, broken light, etc), impeded operation, air freshener, fuzzy dice, rosary beads hanging from rear view mirror, failure to clear snow. Those all justify the stop. Just about any car can be legally stopped.

It was a point of personal pride when a District Attorney asked to use my police reports to train recruits in the academy. Once the car is legally stopped and the perp reaches for the gun, game on. God Bless our Boston Police for removing more guns from the street and please don't get discouraged by the current SJC. Hopefully Conley appeals to SCOTUS and RINO Baker starts appointing law and order judges.

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Your experience

Is all about writing "reports" on the internet, from what many of us here can tell.

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