Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Berkshire
Heard: February 14, 2017.
found and returned in the Superior Court Department on May
pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by John A.
application for leave to prosecute an interlocutory appeal
was allowed by Duffly, J., in the Supreme Judicial Court for
the county of Suffolk, and the appeal was reported by her to
the Appeals Court. The Supreme Judicial Court granted an
application for direct appellate review.
Merritt Schnipper for the defendant.
G.A. Coliflores, Assistant District Attorney, for the
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd,
address in this case the authority of a police officer to
prolong a routine traffic stop in order to investigate
suspected, unrelated criminal activity. The defendant argues
that State police troopers and local police officers
unreasonably detained him beyond the time required to
accomplish the purposes of a traffic stop, in violation of
the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and
art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and thus
that evidence seized from the trunk of his vehicle must be
suppressed. The Commonwealth contends, in contrast, that an
officer is not required to ignore incriminating facts that
arise during the traffic stop, and that the facts gave rise
to a reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was
engaged in criminal activity. After a Superior Court judge
denied the defendant's motion to suppress, a single
justice of this court allowed the defendant's motion for
interlocutory review by the Appeals Court, and we allowed the
defendant's application for direct appellate review. We
conclude that once a police officer has completed the
investigation of a defendant's civil traffic violations,
and the facts do not give rise to reasonable suspicion of
criminal activity, the officer is required to permit the
defendant to drive away. Therefore, we reverse the order
denying the defendant's motion to suppress.
present the facts as found by the motion judge, supplemented
by uncontroverted testimony at the motion hearing.
Commonwealth v. Isaiah I., 448
Mass. 334, 337 (2007), S.C., 450 Mass. 818 (2008). On the
evening of February 19, 2015, at approximately 6:50
£.M., as State police Trooper Noah Pack left the
Massachusetts Turnpike in Lee, he observed a Toyota Camry
being driven ahead of him with broken tail and brake lights.
He also noticed that the vehicle's windows were illegally
tinted. Pack did not immediately stop the vehicle. Rather, he
followed it while driving along Route 20, through Lee and
Lenox, for approximately five miles.
he followed the vehicle, Pack used his onboard computer to
determine that the vehicle was owned by and registered to the
defendant. He also learned that the defendant's
driver's license was current and valid and that the
vehicle was properly registered, inspected, and insured.
Further, he obtained a photograph and other biographical
information of the defendant, and learned that there were no
warrants for the defendant's arrest and that the
defendant had no pending criminal charges. Pack also
discovered that the defendant lived in Holyoke,
been convicted of charges of firearms violations, drug
offenses, and assault and battery on a police officer, and
had been incarcerated for the drug-related convictions.
stopped the vehicle, approached the driver's side, and
asked the defendant to roll down the window. The trooper
observed that the driver appeared to be the person in the
Registry of Motor Vehicles photograph and that another man
was seated in the passenger seat. Pack asked the defendant
for his driver's license and registration.
the defendant looked for these items, the trooper noticed
that he seemed to be "extremely nervous, " not
making eye contact, stuttering when he answered questions,
and offering information unrelated to the stop. Pack asked the
defendant "what brought him out this way" and
"where he was coming from." The defendant answered
that he was headed to a chain restaurant "up the
road." Pack did not believe this statement because,
while he had been following the defendant, they had driven
past one such restaurant in Lee, and because the defendant
had not specified the location of the restaurant where he was
headed. When asked where he was coming from, the defendant
said that he had been at his cousin's house "just
behind him." Given that Pack had been following the
defendant for more than five miles, he also doubted this
defendant produced his driver's license but could not
locate the vehicle's registration. The trooper asked the
passenger for identification, and returned to his cruiser to
run a records check on that information. Once inside the
cruiser, Pack "called for assistance" and waited in