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Commonwealth v. Manha

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

February 28, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
ANTHONY F. MANHA.

          Heard: December 5, 2017.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the South Boston Division of the Boston Municipal Court Department on July 10, 2012. A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Ernest L. Sarason, Jr., J., and following transfer to the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court Department, the case was tried before Tracy-Lee Lyons, J.

         After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

          Leah Hook for the defendant.

          Cailin M. Campbell, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

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

         

          BUDD, J.

         Here we address the authority of the police to stop and perform a Terry-type search of a motor vehicle after an anonymous 911 caller reported that the driver of that vehicle threatened the caller, a fellow motorist, with a gun. The driver, defendant Anthony F. Manha, appeals from a conviction of assault with a dangerous weapon. The Appeals Court affirmed in an unpublished memorandum and order pursuant to its rule 1:28. Commonwealth v. Manha, 91 Mass.App.Ct. 1105 (2017). We granted the defendant's application for further appellate review. He claims that the police lacked probable cause to stop him and that, therefore, the pellet gun found subsequently in his vehicle should have been suppressed. We conclude that, in these circumstances, the information that the police possessed gave them reasonable suspicion to stop and perform a protective sweep of the defendant's motor vehicle, and that, given the officers' safety concerns, reasonable suspicion was all that was required. We therefore affirm the conviction.

         Background.

         We present the facts as found by the motion judge. On July 9, 2012, while on patrol, Trooper John Guest of the State police received a radio call of a then-ongoing 911 call from a motorist regarding a road rage incident. According to the 911 caller, an individual in another motor vehicle had pointed a gun at her as she traveled southbound on Route 93 in Boston. She described the gunman as a white male in his forties who was wearing glasses. She further provided a description of his vehicle, a gray Jeep Cherokee, along with its registration number, location, and direction of travel.

         Based on this information, Guest located the vehicle and followed it for a few miles (observing no traffic violations or other criminal activity) before signaling to the driver to stop. Guest and two other troopers who had since arrived drew their weapons and ordered the driver, the defendant, to get out of the vehicle. A patfrisk of the defendant's person revealed no weapons. The troopers placed the defendant in a police vehicle and performed a protective sweep of the Jeep. In the rear area of the vehicle they discovered a black case. Inside they found a pellet gun in the shape of a hand gun.

         Discussion.

         In our review of the denial of the defendant's motion to suppress, we accept the motion judge's factual findings unless clearly erroneous, and independently apply the law to those findings to determine whether actions of the police were constitutionally justified. See Commonwealth v. Molina, 467 Mass. 65, 72 (2014); Commonwealth v. Wilson, 441 Mass. 390, 393 (2004) .

         1. Reasonable ...


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