The way in which law enforcement officers interact with the public has been the source of a significant amount of debate in recent years, and there is a voluminous body of case law expounding what exactly the 4th Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure actually means. These issues play a large role any matter related to criminal defense and can often have an impact on the outcome of a case.
In order for law enforcement to legally detain a person, an officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring or has recently occurred. This standard is somewhere below probable cause, but must be based on specific and articulable facts. So, strictly by the letter of the law, a person should be free to walk away from a police officer at any time unless the officer can point to a specific reason that he or she believes a crime has been committed.
The 4th Amendment Applies to Traffic Stops
A traffic stop is undoubtedly a “seizure” for the purposes of 4th Amendment law. As a result, police need to have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a legal traffic stop. Generally, this is not difficult to establish, due to the myriad moving and non-moving violations that can apply to driving a vehicle in Massachusetts. According to a recent decision issued by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, however, believing that a person in a vehicle may be in possession of marijuana is no longer sufficient to justify such a traffic stop. The court based its decision on the fact that since 2008, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is considered civil offense rather than a crime. In the opinion, the court pointed out that allowing law enforcement to continue to stop vehicles because officers believe an occupant possesses marijuana does not achieve the objectives of the law, one of which is to refocus police activity on more serious offenses.
This decision, coupled with previous decisions that the odor of marijuana does not justify a police officer in ordering occupants from a car or searching a vehicle without a warrant makes clear that the Massachusetts courts are extending significant 4th Amendment protections to individuals who are suspected of marijuana use.
Contact a Boston Criminal Defense Attorney Today for a Free Consultation
People who have been stopped by the police for minor traffic violations and subsequently arrested may be able to challenge the initial stop or the way in which any search that occurred was conducted. In many instances, a legal challenge to a search conducted by law enforcement can result in the evidence gathered being excluded from any proceedings against you, which in turn can result in a case being dropped or dismissed. For this reason, it is extremely important for anyone accused of a crime to discuss his or her options with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. To schedule a free consultation with Boston criminal defense lawyer Edward R. Molari, call our office today at 617-942-1532.