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Peterson v. Commonwealth

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

November 29, 2017

OMARI PETERSON
v.
COMMONWEALTH.

          Heard: September 5, 2017.

         A motion to dismiss was heard by Peter M. Lauriat, J.

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

          Adam R. LaGrassa, Assistant Attorney General, for the Commonwealth.

          William S. Smith for the plaintiff.

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

          LOWY, J.

         After the Appeals Court reversed the conviction of the plaintiff, Omari Peterson, and set aside the verdict on a charge of unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon, he filed a civil complaint in the Superior Court seeking compensation under the erroneous convictions statute, G. L. c. 258D. A judge denied the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss the complaint, and the Commonwealth appealed.[1] We transferred the case here on our own motion to determine whether, under G. L. c. 258D, § 1 (B) (ii), Peterson is eligible to pursue a claim for compensation. Because we conclude that Peterson's conviction was not reversed by the Appeals Court on "grounds which tend to establish" his innocence within the meaning of this statute, he is not eligible to seek compensation under it. Accordingly, we vacate the order denying the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss and remand the case to the Superior Court, where judgment shall enter for the Commonwealth.

         Background and prior proceedings.

         We recite the uncontested facts. The charge underlying Peterson's conviction stemmed from a traffic stop of the motor vehicle Peterson was driving. The officers stopped the vehicle in an area known for gang activity after observing the driver commit several traffic infractions. The officers approached the driver's side of the vehicle and asked Peterson for his driver's license and registration, both of which he promptly provided. Despite confirming that Peterson's driver's license and registration were valid, the officers ordered Peterson to step out of the vehicle. As Peterson did so, the officers noticed that a knife was clipped to his jeans. Peterson was then placed under arrest for carrying a dangerous weapon, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (b).

         Peterson moved to suppress the knife prior to trial, arguing that the exit order lacked constitutional justification. That motion was denied, and the case proceeded to trial. A jury found Peterson guilty of unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (b), and he was sentenced to two and one-half years in a house of correction.

         On direct appeal, Peterson challenged his conviction on the grounds that (1) the judge erred in denying his motion to suppress because the exit order, resulting in discovery of the knife, was not supported by reasonable suspicion; (2) there was insufficient evidence to establish that the knife was a "dangerous weapon" within the meaning of G. L. c. 269, § 10 (b); and (3) jury instructions. In its unpublished memorandum and order pursuant to its rule 1:28, see Commonwealth v. Peterson, 82 Mass.App.Ct. 1118 (2012), a panel of the Appeals Court determined that the exit order was invalid because it was devoid of specific, articulable facts to support a reasonable apprehension of danger or that a crime had been committed; the police inquiry should have terminated once Peterson produced a valid driver's license and registration. Concluding that the motion to suppress the knife should have been granted, the Appeals Court reversed Peterson's conviction and set aside the verdict, but did not reach his additional claims on the ground that they were rendered moot. Accordingly, that court did not address whether there was sufficient evidence to establish that the knife was a dangerous weapon under the governing statute.

         After Peterson filed his complaint in the Superior Court seeking compensation under the erroneous convictions statute, the Commonwealth moved to dismiss pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (6), 365 Mass. 754 (1974). A Superior Court judge denied the Commonwealth's motion, reasoning that the effect of the Appeals Court's decision was that there was no longer a judicial determination that the knife found on Peterson was dangerous under G. L. c. 269, § 10 (b), and that absent a determination by the Appeals Court that the knife was legal, it would be speculative to presume that the reversal of Peterson's conviction rested on grounds tending to establish innocence.

         Statutory ...


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