Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Massachusetts Case Raises Important Lesson About Search Rights


Recently in the robbery case of Commonwealth v. Mercado, a Massachusetts state appellate court issued an opinion concerning when a law enforcement officer is lawfully permitted to stop people against their will and search them. In its holding, the court found that a law enforcement officer who stopped a person had reasonable suspicion to perform a stop and frisk, and as a result, the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence that was obtained during this search was denied.

How the Case Arose

After being held at gunpoint, four college students provided law enforcement with a description of the three people who committed the offense. The individual who was alleged to have held the gun was an African American man in a hoodie, the second man was a Latino man in a Colorado Rockies Hat, and the third man was of either Black or Hispanic origin. Soon after receiving this report, a police officer spotted three individuals nearby who matched the description. When law enforcement approached these men, a chase on foot occurred, with the three men ultimately slipping back inside of a house. When law enforcement attempted to enter this building, a woman answered and let the law enforcement officers inside. Subsequently, the three men were arrested, but the victims of the crime identified only two of the men.

The Procedural History of the Case

The defendant in the case argued that law enforcement lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him after he left the home and then re-entered. The court, however, found that the law enforcement officer did have reasonable suspicion that the man and his friends were involved in the crime. To demonstrate that reasonable suspicion existed in the case, the court pointed out that the men were wearing the same clothing that had been described by the students who were held at gunpoint.

What to do if Stopped by Law Enforcement

If, like the individuals mentioned involved in this example above, you are stopped by law enforcement, it can help to understand how to respond:

  • Ask if you are permitted to leave. If law enforcement informs you that you are, walk away. If you are told that you are under arrest, you should ask what the basis for the arrest is.

  • In accordance with your Miranda Rights, you have the right to remain silent, which means that law enforcement cannot punish you for refusing to answer questions.  

  • Law enforcement is permitted to pat down your clothing if they suspect that you are carrying a weapon, but you always have the right and should refuse consent for law enforcement to perform any additional searches.

  • Make sure that your hands remain in a place where law enforcement can see them.

  • Remain calm, which means avoiding arguing or running from law enforcement.

Obtain the Services of a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one in Massachusetts faces any type of a charge due to a search that was conducted by law enforcement, do not hesitate to contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law, to schedule an initial free case evaluation. During this time, we can discuss the details of your case as well as what your various available legal options are. Contact our firm today to make sure that your case resolves in the best possible manner.