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Commonwealth v. Sanborn

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

June 29, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
RICHARD R. SANBORN.

          Heard: January 6, 2017.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Fitchburg Division of the District Court Department on May 18, 2015.

         A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Christopher P. LoConto, J., and a question of law was reported by him to the Appeals Court.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          Ellyn H. Lazar-Moore, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Merritt Schnipper (Robert M. Cassesso, Jr., also present) for the defendant.

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

          LOWY, J.

         The question before us was reported by a judge in the District Court: "Whether G. L. c. 209A authorizes the police to effectuate a motor vehicle stop to serve a civil abuse prevention order?" We answer the question in the negative. We conclude that G. L. c. 209A requires law enforcement to take reasonable measures to serve abuse prevention orders. In order for the service of the orders to be reasonable, the manner of service must comply with the terms of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

         Background.

          At a hearing regarding a motion to suppress evidence obtained during a motor vehicle stop, the motion judge found the following facts. On May 16, 2015, a Lunenberg police sergeant was parked outside a local bar. In the course of randomly checking the registration status and owner information of vehicles parked outside the bar, he inquired about a license plate number registered to Richard Sanborn, the defendant. The sergeant recalled that a civil abuse restraining order issued pursuant to G. L. c. 209A had not yet been served on the defendant. Another officer from the Lunenberg police department delivered the restraining order to the sergeant. Subsequently the defendant left the bar, entered his vehicle, and drove away.[1]

          The sergeant followed the defendant and eventually stopped his vehicle. Based on the sergeant's observations of the defendant after the stop, the defendant was placed under arrest for operating while under the influence of liquor.

         The defendant moved to suppress evidence relating to, and discovered as a result of, the stop, arguing that his Fourth Amendment and art. 14 rights had been violated. At the hearing on the defendant's motion, the sergeant testified that he stopped the defendant after observing multiple lane violations. The motion judge discredited that testimony, however, and found that the purpose of the stop was to serve the abuse prevention order. The judge granted the defendant's motion and reported the question above to the Appeals Court pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 34, as amended, 442 Mass. 1501 (2004). We transferred the case to this court on our own motion.

         D ...


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