Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Hampshire
Heard: January 10, 2019.
Complaint received and sworn to in the Eastern Hampshire
Division of the District Court Department on June 20, 2016. A
pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Thomas H.
Rassoul Rangaviz, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for
H. Townsend, Assistant District Attorney, for the
Michael A. DelSignore & Julie Gaudreau, for National
College for DUI Defense, Inc., amicus curiae, submitted a
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher,
& Kafker, JJ.
case is before us on further appellate review from an
unpublished memorandum and order of the Appeals Court
pursuant to its rule 1:28, see Commonwealth
v. Larose, 93 Mass.App.Ct. 1113 (2018),
concerning whether a police officer's stop of the
defendant's motor vehicle for failing to drive entirely
within a marked traffic lane was reasonable, and therefore
valid, under art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of
Rights and the Fourth Amendment to the United States
Constitution. As a result of observations and further inquiry
made by the officer during the stop, the defendant was
charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the
influence of intoxicating liquor in violation of G. L. c. 90,
§ 24, and a marked lanes violation in accordance with G.
L. c. 89, § 4A (§ 4A), a civil motor vehicle
infraction punishable by a fine of not more than one hundred
Superior Court judge allowed the defendant's motion to
suppress "all evidence related to the illegal
seizure" on the ground that the defendant had not
violated § 4A and, as a result, the stop of his motor
vehicle was not reasonable. A single justice of this court
granted the Commonwealth leave to appeal from the allowance
of the motion and reported the matter to the Appeals Court,
granted the defendant's request for further appellate
review to consider whether the defendant violated § 4A
when he crossed the right-side fog line one time for two or
three seconds. We conclude that in this case, where the
circumstances suggest that the defendant both failed to
operate his motor vehicle entirely within his lane of travel
and moved from his lane of travel without first ascertaining
the safety of that movement, the defendant violated § 4A
and the ensuing traffic stop was reasonable. Accordingly, we
vacate the judge's order. 
recount the facts as found by the motion judge, supplemented
by uncontroverted evidence from the suppression hearing.
Commonwealth v. Alexis, 481 Mass.
91, 93 (2018) .
police officer stopped the defendant's motor vehicle in
the early morning hours on Route 202, a two-lane highway with
a single lane of travel in each direction, after observing
the defendant, who was traveling in the northbound travel
lane directly in front of the officer, cross the right-side
fog line "one time for two to three seconds." A
video recording taken from the officer's dashboard camera
and admitted in evidence showed the right-side tires of the
defendant's motor vehicle cross over the right-side fog
line, straddle the northbound travel lane and the narrow road
shoulder for a few seconds, and return to entirely within the
bounds of the northbound travel lane.
stop led to the defendant's arrest for operating a motor
vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor.
Before trial, the defendant moved to suppress certain
evidence gathered as a result of the stop, arguing that the
stop was conducted "without probable cause" and
"without there having been a traffic violation and
without reasonable suspicion of criminal
activity." Section 4A provides in pertinent part:
"When any way has been divided into lanes, the driver of
a vehicle shall so drive that the vehicle shall be entirely
within a single lane, and he shall not move from the lane in
which he is driving until he has first ascertained if such
movement can be made with safety."
motion judge concluded that "crossing a fog line one
time for a few seconds does not constitute a marked lane
violation" and that, therefore, the initial stop of the
defendant's motor vehicle was not lawful. In reaching
that conclusion, he reasoned that a "fog line does not
serve to divide lanes" and, "even if the fog line
is a marked lane for the purposes of the statute, there is no
indication . . . that the defendant's crossing the fog
line was unsafe."
reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, "we adopt
the motion judge's subsidiary findings of fact absent
clear error, but we independently determine the correctness
of the judge's application of constitutional principles
to the facts as found" (citation omitted).
Commonwealth v. Buckley, 478 Mass.
861, 864 (2018) .
police stop of a moving automobile constitutes a seizure and,
therefore, must be reasonable in order to comply with the
Fourth Amendment and with art. 14. See Buckley, 478
Mass. at 865; Commonwealth v.
Rodriguez, 472 Mass. 767, 773 (2015). We
consistently have held that a stop is reasonable, and
therefore constitutional, where an officer has observed a
traffic infraction and, as a result, has actual cause to
believe that the driver violated an applicable motor vehicle
law. See Buckley, supra
at 868; Commonwealth v. Santana,
420 Mass. 205, 208 (1995) (reasonable for police to stop
driver who violated motor vehicle law); Commonwealth
v. Bacon, 381 Mass. 642, 644 (1980) (police
warranted in stopping vehicle where police observed traffic
applied this test, often referred to as the authorization
test, without regard for the gravity or magnitude of the
perceived violation. See, e.g., Commonwealth
v. Cordero, 477 Mass. 237, 242 (2017)
(impermissible degree of window tint, and broken tail and
brake lights); Commonwealth v.
Amado, 474 Mass. 147, 151 (2016) (unlit registration
plate); Commonwealth v. Feyenord, 445 Mass. 72, 75
(2005), cert, denied, 546 U.S. 1187 (2006) (inoperable
headlight in daytime); Commonwealth v.
Torres, 433 Mass. 669, 673 (2001) (failure to stop
at stop sign); Commonwealth v.
Damon, 82 Mass.App.Ct. 164, 168 (2012) (failure to
signal turn). And we have maintained this bright-line test
despite numerous challenges. See Buckley, 478 Mass.
at 866-868 (rejecting standard that would require extended
examination of police's underlying motives for conducting
stop in favor of authorization test, which avoids
"often-speculative probing of the police's
'true' motives, while at the same time providing an
administrable rule" that clarifies exactly when police
may conduct traffic stop); Santana, 420 Mass. at
208-209 (rejecting "reasonable police officer" test
and articulating authorization test) .
police to conduct these types of stops promotes compliance
with our motor vehicle laws and "'serves the
significant government interest' of ensuring public
safety on our roadways." Buckley, 478 Mass. at
869. See Rodriguez, 472 Mass. at 776-777. As we more
fully explained in Rodriguez:
"[M]any of our traffic violation statutes regulate
moving cars and relate directly to the promotion of public
safety; even those laws that have to do with maintaining a
vehicle's equipment in accordance with certain standards
may also be safety-related. . . . Permitting stops based on
reasonable suspicion or probable cause that these laws may
have been violated gives police the ability to immediately
address potential safety hazards on the road. Thus, although
a vehicle stop does represent a significant intrusion into an
individual's privacy, the government interest in allowing
such stops for the purpose of promoting compliance with our
automobile laws is clear and compelling."
Id. The marked lanes statute is no exception. The
salient issue before us then is whether the defendant, in
briefly crossing the right-side fog line, violated § 4A.
Violation of § 4A.
never have addressed explicitly whether crossing a fog line
is a marked lanes violation, although we once noted in dicta
that a driver whose motor vehicle had swerved over the fog
line, back into the travel lane, over the double yellow lines
separating the travel lanes, and back over the fog line had
committed "three marked lanes violations."
Commonwealthv.Jewett, 471 Mass.
624, 625 (2015). See United Statesv.Lawrence, 675 Fed.Appx. 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2017) (noting
lack of any definitive commentary on issue by Massachusetts
courts); United States vs. ...