In reversing the Gun Crimes convictions of two men, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that police officers can no longer frisk someone during a routine encounter unless they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ to believe the person is involved in criminal activity and is armed and dangerous.
In the case of Commonwealth v. Jamal Martin, that defendant had been convicted of Carrying a Firearm Without a License, Carrying a Loaded Firearm, and Assault & Battery on a Police Officer. The incident occurred on October 8, 2006, when, at 10:30 a.m., Boston Police Officers were patrolling a ‘high crime area’ in which ‘numerous shootings’ had occurred and looking for a specific juvenile to execute an arrest warrant. During their patrol, they observed a young man wearing a sweatshirt with the hood up around his face and walking in the opposite direction from which the police were traveling. Although the police could not see his face, they ‘thought’ that this person might have an outstanding default warrant…[how does that make sense when they couldn’t see his face?]
The police turned their cruiser around and engaged the young man, a teenager, in conversation. Although the police quickly realized this young man was not the person they were looking for, and simply because the young man refused to continue to speak with the police, they proceeded to ask him if he had any weapons. Despite that Martin responded that he did not, the police nonetheless continued to frisk them “for their safety.” The frisk revealed a loaded gun.
In reversing Martin’s conviction, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that when an individual is stopped and searched, the police conduct must satisfy two conditions.
- The investigatory stop must be lawful. In a street encounter, that requirement is met with the police officer reasonably suspects that the person apprehended is committing or has committed a crime.
- To then engage the person in a frisk, the police officer must reasonably suspect that the person stopped is armed and dangerous.
The police can’t just go up to people, without legitimate reason, and just detain and search them…In my opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s recent decision serves as a message to law enforcement officers to pull the reigns a bit on questionable police practices.
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