The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today Suffolk County prosecutors can't use a gun as evidence against a man charged with illegal gun possession because the Boston police officers who found the weapon after stopping the car he was in for speeding failed to provide enough evidence the car was going too fast.
Because they didn't have enough probable cause for the speeding stop, any evidence seized after it could not be used, the state's highest court ruled.
According to the ruling, three Boston gang-unit officers were in an unmarked car patrolling the area around Mt. Ida Road in Dorchester on Nov. 23, 2012, when they "observed a car traveling at a speed greater than reasonable," put on their blue lights and siren and ordered the driver - a gang associate they had earlier spotted coming out of a nearby pizza place - to pull over.
While the car was still in motion, the defendant exited the front passenger side. He came toward the cruiser, went forward, turned, and came back again, as if he [did not] know where he wanted to go. He was grabbing the right side of his waist area, which made the officers -- at least one of them having been trained in the characteristics of armed gunmen -- suspect that he might have a firearm in his possession. The unit has rid the streets of Boston of numerous illicit firearms.
"The officers immediately gave chase. About [forty] yards into the chase an officer caught up to the defendant. Un-holstering his firearm, the officer ordered the defendant to show his hands. The defendant stopped and said, 'All I have is a gun.' He was wide-eyed and excited. The officers secured his hands and removed a firearm from his right side, in the waist area."
The problem with the seizure, however, is the question of whether the police could provide any evidence beyond an officer's opinion that the car was going too fast; if it was not the police had no reason to stop the car and they never would have discovered the gun, the court said:
In this case, the police officer testified to his impression that the Honda Accord was "traveling at a speed greater than reasonable." Although the officer's conclusory testimony tracked the statutory language, he failed to articulate specific facts on which his impression could be evaluated. ...
Here, the Commonwealth offered nothing that would have permitted the motion judge to evaluate the reasonableness of the officer's conclusory statement that the speed was unreasonable. ... The Commonwealth was not required to identify the vehicle's precise speed, but the testifying officer provided nothing on the subject of speed beyond his conclusion that it was greater than reasonable. He did not, for example, estimate the vehicle's speed; compare its speed to the vehicle in which he was riding or to other vehicles; provide any measurement from a radar gun or other device; or testify that the vehicle was traveling faster than the posted speed limit for that particular road and location. Nor was there evidence presented regarding the traffic on the road, the use being made of the road at the time by pedestrians or others, or other relevant safety considerations.