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Commonwealth v. Campbell

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

September 30, 2016

COMMONWEALTH
v.
JAMIL J. CAMPBELL.

          Heard: February 10, 2016.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court Department on August 19, 2013. After transfer to the Central Division, a pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Charles R. Johnson, J.

         An application for leave to prosecute an interlocutory appeal was allowed by Lenk, J., in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk, and the case was reported by her to the Appeals Court. The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Helle Sachse, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Rebecca A. Jacobstein, Committee for Public Counsel Services (Aditi Goel, Committee for Public Counsel Services, with her) for the defendant.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, & Lenk, JJ. [1]

          LENK, J.

         On August 17, 2013, at approximately 4:30 P.M., Trooper Thomas Hannon of the State police stopped a vehicle driven by the defendant for failing to stop at a stop sign. The vehicle had been rented by the defendant's mother, who has a last name that is different from the defendant's. Upon request, the defendant provided Hannon with a valid driver's license and the rental agreement. The agreement listed only the mother as the renter and stated, "[N]o other drivers permitted." Hannon concluded that the defendant was using the vehicle without authority, in violation of G. L. c. 90, § 24 (2) (a), which makes it illegal to "use[] a motor vehicle without authority knowing that such use is unauthorized." Accordingly, he decided to impound the vehicle. During an inventory search in preparation for impoundment, a loaded handgun and a box of ammunition were seized from the vehicle. The Commonwealth maintains that, upon learning of the seizures, the defendant made incriminating statements to police.

         This case is before us on the Commonwealth's interlocutory appeal from a Boston Municipal Court judge's order allowing the defendant's motion to suppress the handgun, the ammunition, and statements he made to police. We conclude that the inventory search was unlawful under the circumstances, and therefore affirm the allowance of the motion to suppress.

         Background and prior proceedings.

         The defendant was arrested on August 17, 2013, and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a); unlawful possession of a loaded firearm, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (n); unlawful possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (h); and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, G. L. c. 90, § 24 (2) (a). He also was given a civil citation for failure to stop at a stop sign, G. L. c. 89, § 9. At an evidentiary hearing on May 14, 2014, a judge of the Boston Municipal Court heard testimony from multiple witnesses, including Hannon, Trooper John McCarthy of the State police, and the defendant.

         Hannon testified as follows. On the day of the seizure, he was monitoring the flow of traffic at the Heath Street rotary in the Roxbury section of Boston. He explained that there had been several instances of recent violence in the area, including shootings and gang-related incidents. When Hannon saw the defendant's vehicle fail to stop at a stop sign, he stopped the vehicle on Heath Street in a residential area, where the defendant provided his driver's license and the rental agreement.[2] Other than the fact that the defendant's name was not on the rental agreement, Hannon had no basis to believe that the vehicle was stolen -- the defendant had a key for the vehicle, the defendant's license was valid, and the vehicle appeared to be in good condition. In addition, there was no evidence suggesting that the rental period for the vehicle had expired, or that the vehicle had been reported stolen. The defendant did not appear to Hannon to be nervous, never made any furtive or threatening gestures, and was generally cooperative.

         Hannon did not remember asking the defendant during the traffic stop whether he knew the person whose name was on the rental agreement, or if that person had given him permission to drive the vehicle. Hannon stated that he did not attempt to contact the rental car company to determine whether the defendant was authorized to drive the vehicle, and did not recall whether a civilian dispatcher had telephoned on his behalf. Nonetheless, because the defendant's name was not on the rental agreement, Hannon informed the defendant that the vehicle was going to be impounded for unauthorized use. Although Hannon had not yet decided whether he would place the defendant under arrest, he placed the defendant in the rear passenger seat of his police cruiser, uncuffed, and initiated an inventory search of the rental vehicle.

         Hannon further testified that he found the handgun in the center console during that search. At that point, he informed the defendant of the Miranda rights and asked whether the defendant had a license to carry the weapon. According to Hannon, the defendant then stated, "No. I got problems with some dudes and bought the gun on the street for my protection." Hannon also said that, at some point during the stop, he learned from a police dispatcher that there was a default warrant for the defendant for failing to appear for jury duty.

         McCarthy testified that he arrived at the scene after hearing a request for assistance on his police radio, and saw the defendant sitting handcuffed in Hannon's cruiser.[3] McCarthy then found the box of ammunition in the rental vehicle. McCarthy testified that he told the defendant that he had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear for jury duty, and that the defendant told him in response that he had purchased the firearm to protect himself.

         The defendant, on the other hand, testified that he told Hannon that his mother had rented the vehicle and had given him permission to use it. The defendant also testified that Hannon had spoken with the defendant's mother on the telephone during the traffic stop, and that the defendant's mother told the trooper that the defendant had permission to drive the vehicle. The defendant denied knowing that there was a firearm in the vehicle, and stated that he did not recall what he had said to police during the stop. The defendant also denied that he had been informed of the Miranda rights until he was under arrest and being driven to the State police barracks. He testified that he said nothing to police after being informed of those rights.

         The motion judge allowed the defendant's motion to suppress in a handwritten, signed order that was dated July 1, 2014. The judge wrote,

"Allowed: Trooper Hannon lawfully stopped [the defendant's] vehicle for failure to stop it at a posted stop sign as required by law. However, the absence of [the defendant's] name on the [rental] agreement without more is not sufficient justification under the circumstances presented for the arrest of [the defendant] for "[u]se without authority" or any of the other consequences which befell [the defendant] as a result of the traffic stop by [the trooper]. The gun, ammunition and the statements made by [the defendant] should be suppressed and not admitted at trial."

         On July 5, 2014, the motion judge retired, and the case was assigned to another judge for trial. The motion judge's suppression order was entered on July 11, 2014.

         On July 18, 2014, the Commonwealth filed a motion to vacate the suppression order on the ground that the order was entered after the motion judge's retirement. On August 4, 2014, the Commonwealth filed an application in the county court for leave to pursue an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 15 (a) (2), as appearing in 422 Mass. 1501 (1996), and G. L. c. 278, ยง 28E. The following day, the Commonwealth withdrew its motion to vacate the suppression order. On September 2, 2014, a single justice of this court allowed the Commonwealth's ...


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