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Commonwealth v. Brantley

Appeals Court of Massachusetts

August 18, 2016


         Arrest. Constitutional Law, Arrest, Investigatory stop, Stop and frisk, Assistance of counsel, Search and seizure. Search and Seizure, Arrest, Inventory, Automobile. Name. Practice, Criminal, Motion to suppress, Required finding, Instructions to jury, New trial, Assistance of counsel.

          Victoria L. Nadel for the defendant.

          Thomas H. Townsend, Special Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

         The defendant, Sean Brantley, appeals from the judgments after his convictions by a Superior Court jury of possession of cocaine and furnishing a false name to a law enforcement officer.[1] The defendant contends that (1) his motion to suppress evidence should have been allowed; (2) the evidence was insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt the elements of furnishing a false name; (3) the jury instructions on furnishing a false name were incorrect; and (4) defense counsel was ineffective because he improperly conceded the defendant's guilt to furnishing a false name. We discuss the facts where relevant.

         1. Motion to suppress.

         The defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence on the grounds that the search and seizure of the defendant and his vehicle were not based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause. After an evidentiary hearing, the motion judge denied the motion and made the following findings:

"In this matter, Commonwealth vs. Sean Brantley, the court finds Sgt. Toledo credible. I credit his testimony in its entirety. I adopt his testimony as the court's findings of fact. Based on those findings, I find that Sgt. Toledo ha[d] reasonable suspicions, based on specific and articulated facts, to stop the motor vehicle for its failure to stop for a stop sign.
"I then find significantly that the officer on multiple occasions ordered the defendant to stop and that the defendant, in fact, fled from that particular location.
"Consequently, I find that the search of his person was a valid search, incident to arrest, and that the inventory search was similarly valid, consistent with the written inventory policy of the Springfield Police Department."[2]

         The defendant argues that he did not commit an arrestable offense and therefore the search could not be justified as a search incident to arrest. Here, the initial stop of the defendant's vehicle was valid as a routine traffic stop. The stop was no longer routine once the defendant, after stopping, backed up the vehicle three to five feet in the direction of the officer. The officer could see the defendant staring at him in the rearview mirror. Only when the officer activated two bursts from his air horn did the defendant fully stop. The defendant then "leapt" out of the vehicle. The officer immediately ordered him back into the vehicle, but the defendant refused to comply, and ran from the scene.

         Failure to stop a vehicle when ordered to do so by a police officer is an arrestable offense. See G. L. c. 90, §§ 21 and 25. The defendant attempts to escape the application of § 25 by arguing that he was no longer inside the automobile when ordered to stop. The Supreme Judicial Court has held, however, that the phrase "operating or in charge of a motor vehicle" in § 25 "connotes active control of a vehicle by a driver placed either in the vehicle or in such physical proximity that he might drive away." Commonwealth v. Schiller, 377 Mass. 10, 12 (1979). Furthermore, the defendant's operation of the vehicle, backward toward the officer after being pulled over, established probable cause to support arrest for this offense. The motion to suppress was properly denied.

         2. Sufficiency of the evidence: furnishing a false name.

         Defense counsel conceded in his opening statement that the defendant provided the police with a false name. The defendant argues, however, that his motion for a required finding on this charge should have been allowed because he provided the false name prior to his arrest, while the statute contains the phrase "following an arrest." G. L. c. 268, § 34A. A rational jury could have found that the defendant furnished a false name beginning with his capture and extending through the booking procedure. Therefore, even if an arrest is viewed as occurring only after a formal arrest and not at the point of seizure with probable cause, the elements of the statute have been satisfied. Moreover, as with the crime of resisting arrest, the appropriate question is not whether there had been a formal arrest, but rather, whether a reasonable person in the defendant's circumstances would have understood that he was under arrest. Cf. Commonwealth v. Grant, 71 Mass.App.Ct. 205, 208 (2008).

         3. Jury instruction: furnishing a false name.

         The defendant claims that the jury instruction was incorrect because it did not distinguish between the use of the false name prior to arrest and the use of the false name after arrest. The defendant ignores the fact that the trial judge gave the model jury instructions almost verbatim and they were correct. Even if the instructions were incorrect, where the ...

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