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Court: Gun seized after car stopped for speeding can't be used as evidence because cops failed to show that the car was speeding

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.

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Comments

Sloppy.

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Unprepared and uncoached

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I mean, there's never really any "evidence" that a car was going too fast, or that it ran a red light, unless there's a video of the infraction.

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The decision says the court didn't need a specific radar-gun reading, just something, anything other than an officer saying the car was going "at a speed greater than reasonable." In fact, the ruling even gives some examples that I'd think would be easy to come up with:

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

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I thought state law gives less weight to driving faster than a number on a sign than it does to driving at a speed that is unreasonable for conditions.

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The law geek in me is going to side with the courts that the officer didn't even bother to say that the car was going faster than other cars or give an estimated speed limit. That's just sloppy; they aren't asking for radar reading or anything, just an estimate or something they saw happen that suggested speeding.

But yeah, Mt. Ida Rd is a one-way residential street, a hill, densely filled with three-deckers, has Ronan Park on one side, and always has a dense line of cars parked on both sides. I'd say that going over 20 or so would be imprudent, and I probably drive slower than that down it and down similar streets where one should be watching for pedestrians and kids playing and whatnot. Again, sloppy that they didn't even make the case that the car looked to be going too fast to safely stop for balls rolling into the road and such. They just said "speeding."

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when the speed limit is set at 30mph for the entire city of Boston. Then stopping a soccer mom with a car full of kids on a back road will be justified, as EVERYONE will be breaking the speed limit ALL THE TIME.
Fear not nanny-staters, this will never happen again!

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The default is already 30.

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Is there are TV show in that?

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my apologies...

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God help us...did he get keep the gun too? Ridiculous

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Just today the US Supreme Court rules on a remarkably similar situation and found that if the suspect has a warrant against them anything found is admissible in court even if the initial stop was invalid.

If the person has had a warrant against them the state could appeal the decision in federal court.

More on today's US Supreme Court decision

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That's not how appeals work.

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Will be interesting to see if the next time a case like this comes up the SJC goes with the Supreme Court ruling or finds something in the Mass. constitution to continue requiring police to have a legally legitimate reason for a stop.

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But if you look at the SJC ruling, it relies on some specific Massachusetts precedents in cases dating to the 1920s related specifically to traffic stops. So the Supreme Court ruling may gut the Fourth Amendment here as everywhere else, but the really low bar set for Massachusetts traffic stops could persist (and again, as I mentioned earlier, the officer's apparent failure to provide even the merest hint of why he felt the car was going too fast - and a prosecutor's failure to draw him out on that - really something that could have been easily avoided).

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