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Commonwealth v. Hilaire

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Plymouth

February 21, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
JAMES CHARLES HILAIRE.

          Heard: October 6, 2017.

         A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Cornelius J. Moriarty, II, J.

         An application for leave to prosecute an interlocutory appeal was allowed 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.

          David D. Nielson for the defendant.

          Carolyn A. Burbine, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Wolohojian, Maldonado, & Wendlandt, JJ.

          WOLOHOJIAN, J.

         At issue is whether there was reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant and search his backpack several hours after an armed home invasion had occurred nearby. Taking judicial notice of demographic data he located on his own initiative, the Superior Court judge concluded there was reasonable suspicion and denied the defendant's motion to suppress. The demographic data should not have been relied upon, both because the judge should not have expanded the factual record with independent research taken on his own initiative without notice to the parties and because they were not relevant. Nonetheless, we affirm the denial of the motion to suppress because we conclude that the facts elicited at the evidentiary hearing established reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant.[1]

         On July 29, 2014, at approximately 3:05 A.M., East Bridgewater police responded to the area of 601 North Central Street to investigate a report of an armed home invasion with shots fired.[2] It was reported that a large amount of cash and jewelry had been taken. The suspects were described as several young black males, two of whom were carrying backpacks. There was no further description of the men, their features, or their appearance, except that they were said to be wearing "regular clothes."

         A short time after the home invasion, three black men fled from a red Toyota Camry in front of 505 North Central Street, leaving the doors of the vehicle open as they ran into neighboring woods. 505 North Central Street is only about 100 yards from the location of the home invasion.

         A large number of officers converged on the scene. One of them, Talitha Connor, stood near the abandoned Toyota while other officers searched the woods. As she was positioned there, Connor observed a black Acura driving up and down North Central Street. Connor stopped the vehicle and asked its driver, Ashley Smith, what she was doing. Smith responded that she was lost and trying to get back to Brockton. Connor allowed Smith to go on her way, but wrote the registration number of the vehicle on her hand.

         Officer Dennis Andre was called in to duty around 5:00 A.M. Andre's first assignment was to transport to the station a slender-built black male who had been taken into custody in connection with the home invasion. Andre then returned to the area near the scene to continue patrolling for the two suspects who remained at large.

         At approximately 7:15 A.M., Andre saw a dark-colored sedan "bang[] a U-turn" in the middle of an intersection during a red light. He stopped the vehicle, which was driven by Ashley Smith, and radioed in the registration information. Smith again explained she was lost and trying to get back to Brockton. Andre gave Smith directions, which he testified as just "basically two streets, and then you're [on] Plain Street in Brockton." Smith responded that "she was familiar with Plain Street in Brockton and could make it home from there."

         Andre then returned to the station where he learned from Connor about her earlier encounter with Smith, and the fact that Smith had given both of them the same explanation for her presence in the area. Because Connor had written the registration on her hand, the two officers were ...


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