Heard: May 16, 2016.
received and sworn to in the Dorchester Division of the
Boston Municipal Court Department on September 5, 2014.
pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Catherine
K. Byrne, J.
application for leave to prosecute an interlocutory appeal
was heard by Fernande R.V. Duffly, J., in the
Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk, and the
appeal was reported by her to the Appeals Court.
Michael A. Lafleur, Assistant District Attorney, for the
M. Corridan for the defendant.
Present: Agnes, Massing, & Kinder, JJ.
question presented in this case is whether it was reasonable
for police to seize and inventory the contents of a backpack
found in the back seat of a vehicle operated by the
defendant, Jahliel M. Nicoleau, upon his arrest. The vehicle
was parked in front of his home where he lived with his
grandmother, who was present at the scene, and to whom the
police gave other personal belongings of the defendant. Based
on the reasoning in Commonwealth v.
Abdallah, 475 Mass. 47, 52-53 (2016), we conclude that
although the police had a right to impound and tow the
unregistered, uninsured vehicle that the defendant was
operating, there was a practical, available alternative to
the seizure of the defendant's backpack --namely, turning
it over to the defendant's grandmother -- which would
have precluded the police from seizing it and subjecting it
to an inventory search. Accordingly, we affirm the order
allowing the defendant's motion to suppress a knife that
the police found inside the backpack.
review of "a ruling on a motion to suppress, we accept
the judge's subsidiary findings of fact absent clear
error 'but conduct an independent review of [her]
ultimate findings and conclusions of law.'"
Commonwealth v. Scott, 440 Mass. 642, 646
(2004), quoting from Commonwealth v.
Jimenez, 438 Mass. 213, 218 (2002). We recite the facts
as found by the motion judge, supplemented with uncontested
testimony from the hearing on the motion to suppress.
September 4, 2014, Officer Brian Tracey and his partner were
patrolling in Boston and observed a car, driven by the
defendant, with one headlight out. The vehicle's
registration and license plates were invalid. The
officers followed the car and attempted to stop it, but the
defendant continued to drive until he parked the car outside
his home, where he lived with his grandmother. Other officers
arrived, and the grandmother emerged from the home to speak
with the police. The defendant was placed under arrest for
failure to stop and for motor vehicle violations. Because the
vehicle was unregistered and uninsured, and the defendant was
unable to produce a driver's license, the officers
arranged to have it impounded.
made the decision to impound the vehicle, but prior to the
car being towed, officers searched the vehicle, removing a
music player from the backseat and giving it to the
grandmother. They handed the defendant's keys to the
grandmother as well. The police also removed a backpack from
the back seat, but instead of handing it to the grandmother,
they opened it and located a knife inside. The defendant was
additionally charged with unlawfully carrying a dangerous
weapon in violation of G. L. c. 269, § 10(b).
defendant moved to suppress the knife, and Officer Tracey
testified at the motion hearing. Although Tracey admitted
that the officers removed a music player from the car, the
inventory search form that was completed indicated that
nothing had been removed from the vehicle. The motion judge
ruled that the stop, impoundment, and inventory search were
lawful. However, she concluded that the inventory search
should not have extended to the interior of the backpack,
because the grandmother was present and willing to take
possession of the defendant's property, and in fact did
so in the case of the ...