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Commonwealth v. Edwards

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

January 20, 2017


          Heard: September 6, 2016.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on April 23, 2013.

         A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Kenneth W. Salinger, J.

         An application for leave to prosecute an interlocutory appeal was allowed by Botsford, J., in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk, and the appeal was reported by her to the Appeals Court. After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

          Greg L. Johnson for the defendant.

          Matthew T. Sears, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Botsford, Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          BOTSFORD, J.

         The defendant, Joshua Edwards, has been indicted for multiple offenses, including firearms offenses, with which he was initially charged following the seizure and search of a motor vehicle he had been driving. Before trial, he moved to suppress evidence seized during the search of the vehicle, invoking the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. After an evidentiary hearing, a Superior Court judge allowed the defendant's motion. A single justice of this court allowed the Commonwealth leave to pursue an interlocutory appeal and reported the case to the Appeals Court. See Mass. R. Crim. P. 15 (a) (2), as appearing in 422 Mass. 1501 (1996). The Appeals Court reversed in an unpublished memorandum and order issued pursuant to its rule 1:28. Commonwealth v. Edwards, 87 Mass.App.Ct. 1133 (2015). We granted the defendant's application for further appellate review. Recognizing that this is an exceedingly close case, we conclude that the stop was predicated on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and therefore reverse the motion judge's order allowing the motion to suppress.

         Factual background.

         One witness, Boston police Officer David Lanteigne, testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress. In addition, a number of photographs, documents, and police radio transmissions, as well as a recording of a 911 call, were received in evidence. In reviewing a judge's decision on a motion to suppress, we "accept the judge's subsidiary findings of fact absent clear error, but conduct an independent review of the judge's ultimate findings and conclusions of law." Commonwealth v. Washington, 449 Mass. 476, 480 (2007). Without "detract[ing] from the judge's ultimate findings, " Commonwealth v. Jessup, 471 Mass. 121, 127-128 (2015), we supplement his factual findings with "evidence from the record that 'is uncontroverted and undisputed and where the judge explicitly or implicitly credited the witness's testimony'" (citation omitted). Commonwealth v. Jones-Pannell, 472 Mass. 429, 431 (2015).[1]

         On March 17, 2013, at approximately 1:30 A.M., the Boston police received a 911 call.[2] The caller identified himself by name, Jabari Wattley, and told the operator that he could see a man standing in the street holding a gun. Wattley further stated that he had seen the man drive off in a black Infiniti motor vehicle, return and park on Armandine Street (in the Dorchester section of Boston), get out of the vehicle holding a gun in his hand, and then get back into the vehicle.[3] He informed the operator that he knew the man, identified him as the defendant, Joshua Edwards, and said that Edwards was not threatening anyone.

         The police dispatcher broadcast the information as a "Priority 1" call, requesting "any unit nearby" to respond to the address. A call coded as "Priority 1" "means that it was of a serious nature and that response time and protecting officer safety were both high priorities." A marked cruiser driven by Lanteigne arrived on Armandine Street shortly after the broadcast.[4] The cruiser did not have its emergency lights activated. Lanteigne stopped when a man (later identified as Wattley) ran off his porch toward the cruiser and began "yelling" to Lanteigne and pointing at a black Acura motor vehicle that was parked twenty to thirty feet in front of the cruiser, on the right hand side of the street.[5]

         The Acura was legally parked very close to the curb, and was completely dark; no interior or external lights were on. Another vehicle was parked in front of the Acura, but the space or spaces behind it were empty. At that point, Lanteigne observed the Acura's brake lights illuminate, and Wattley yelled something to the effect of, "That's him. That's the guy, he's about to drive away." In response, Lanteigne activated the cruiser's blue lights, strobe lights, and other lights, and moved the cruiser alongside the driver's side of the Acura in order to block the vehicle from leaving. Lanteigne believed "the Acura was about to drive away . . . [and] understood that the person Wattley had seen with a handgun was driving the Acura. "

         Lanteigne got out of the cruiser and removed his firearm from its holster. At the same time, the defendant got out of the Acura and closed the door. He "appeared to take no notice of and pay no attention to" Lanteigne, and started to walk away. Lanteigne responded by running to the front of his cruiser and ordering the defendant to stop. When the defendant turned and started walking away quickly, the officer holstered his own weapon, pushed the ...

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