425 Mass. 99 (1997), Commonwealth v. Va Meng Joe
|Citation:||425 Mass. 99, 682 N.E.2d 586|
|Party Name:||COMMONWEALTH v. VA MENG JOE.|
|Case Date:||June 03, 1997|
|Court:||Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts|
Argued Feb. 6, 1997.
[682 N.E.2d 587] Robert L. Sheketoff, Boston, for defendant.
Patricia M. Blackburn, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.
Before WILKINS, C.J., and LYNCH, O'CONNOR, FRIED and MARSHALL, JJ.
The defendant was indicted in December of 1992 for trafficking in heroin. G.L. c. 94C, § 32E (c ) (1). Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress the drugs which were seized from his pocket at the time of his arrest. The motion was denied. The defendant waived a jury trial and was found guilty by a Superior Court judge. The defendant appealed. The Appeals Court affirmed the conviction, concluding that the stop of the defendant was a valid investigatory stop and that the subsequent search of the defendant was justified because the police officers were warranted in taking reasonable precautions for their own protection.
Commonwealth v. Va Meng Joe, 40 Mass.App.Ct. 499, 508-509, 665 N.E.2d 1005 (1996). We granted the defendant's application for further appellate review and affirm, but on grounds somewhat different from those relied on by the Appeals Court.
Facts. The judge found the following facts.
Special Agent Reeves then talked with Detective Thomas Morrissey and Detective Russell Grant of the Boston police department. The three then planned a stakeout near the doughnut shop. At approximately 4 P.M., the defendant appeared alone in a black Mercedes-Benz in front of the doughnut shop. He pulled in front of the doughnut shop and, although he slowed down, he did not come to a complete
stop, but instead proceeded down Morton Street.
Discussion. At the motion to suppress hearing, the Commonwealth conceded that the police officers, in searching the defendant, were not acting out of a concern for their safety.
An appellate court is free to affirm a ruling on grounds different from those relied on by the motion judge if the correct or preferred basis for affirmance is supported by the record and the findings. Indeed, if the facts found by the judge support an alternative legal theory, a reviewing court is free to rely on an alternative legal theory. See Commonwealth v. Cast, 407 Mass. 891, 897, 556 N.E.2d 69 (1990); Commonwealth v. Signorine, 404 Mass. 400, 403 n. 1, 535 N.E.2d 601 (1989).
Probable cause. In order to have had probable cause to arrest and search the defendant, the police officers would have to have known of enough facts and circumstances "to warrant a person of reasonable caution" in believing that the defendant had committed or was committing a crime. See Commonwealth v. Gullick, 386 Mass. 278, 283, 435 N.E.2d 348 (1982), and cases cited; Commonwealth v. Skea, 18 Mass.App.Ct. 685, 686-687 n. 3, 470 N.E.2d 385 (1984).
"Where an unnamed informant's tip is relied on by law enforcement officers as supplying probable cause to arrest and search the defendant, art. 14 [of the Massachusetts [682 N.E.2d 589] Declaration of Rights] requires that the information pass muster under the two-pronged standard set forth in Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108 [84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723] (1964), and Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410 [89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637] (1969)." Commonwealth v. Cast, supra at 896, 556 N.E.2d 69. Generally,
to satisfy the "Aguilar-Spinelli" test, the Commonwealth is required to demonstrate (1) some underlying circumstances which demonstrate a basis of the informant's knowledge (basis of knowledge test) and (2) some underlying circumstances from which the law officials could have...
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