Com. v. Isaiah, SJC-09997.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation882 N.E.2d 328,450 Mass. 818
Docket NumberSJC-09997.
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. ISAIAH, I., a juvenile.
Decision Date18 March 2008
882 N.E.2d 328
450 Mass. 818
ISAIAH, I., a juvenile.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.
Argued December 5, 2007.
Decided March 18, 2008.

[882 N.E.2d 330]

Dean A. Mazzone, Assistant District Attorney (Kathleen Celio, Assistant District Attorney, with him) for the Commonwealth.

Brian M. Wiseman, Medford, for the juvenile.



450 Mass. 818

In Commonwealth v. Isaiah I., 448 Mass. 334, 861 N.E.2d 404 (2007), this court vacated and remanded, for further factual findings, a Juvenile Court judge's decision to grant the juvenile's motion to suppress a firearm that was seized from him after a patfrisk in a store in the Dorchester section of Boston. On remand, the judge again granted the juvenile's motion to suppress.

450 Mass. 819

A single justice of this court granted the Commonwealth's application for an interlocutory appeal. Because we conclude that the police officers had reasonable suspicion to stop and pat frisk the juvenile, we reverse the order granting the motion to suppress and remand the matter for further proceedings.

Facts and procedural background. In May, 2003, the juvenile was charged as a youthful offender with unlawful possession of a firearm. The judge held an evidentiary hearing on the juvenile's motion to suppress. Two Boston police detectives testified.1 The judge granted the motion and issued written findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Commonwealth appealed. A single justice of this court granted the Commonwealth's application for leave to pursue an interlocutory appeal to the Appeals Court. The Appeals Court, in an unpublished memorandum and order pursuant to its rule 1:28, Commonwealth v. Isaiah I., 65 Mass.App.Ct. 1111, 840 N.E.2d 67 (2005), reversed the judge's decision after adding facts "to fill in gaps in the judge's factual findings." Commonwealth v. Isaiah I., 448 Mass. 334, 335, 861 N.E.2d 404 (2007). We granted the juvenile's application for further appellate review. Id.

In our decision we concluded that "the judge's factual findings [were] inadequate and would require [the court] to add facts in an attempt to fill in gaps in the findings." Id. We stated that some facts were clearly erroneous, some incomplete and that the "gaps in the facts [were] material to the issues concerning when the juvenile was seized and whether the detective [who conducted the patfrisk that yielded the illegal firearm] had reasonable suspicion that the juvenile had a weapon." Id. at 338, 861 N.E.2d 404. In particular, we noted that the judge made no credibility determinations and thus we could not tell

882 N.E.2d 331

"whether she found none, some, or all" of the testimony credible. Id. See note 4, infra. We remanded the case to "the judge for further factual findings and a reconsideration of the legal conclusions in light of those further findings." Id.

In March, 2007, the judge again issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order. In the written decision, the judge found the following facts. In January, 2004, three Boston police

450 Mass. 820

officers were driving in an unmarked car in Dorchester, investigating a string of armed robberies and purse snatchings. The police believed that these crimes were committed by black or Hispanic young adults between the ages of fourteen and twenty years. On the day the juvenile was seized, "there were no reports of any crimes taking place at this location." While stopped at an intersection, the officers observed the juvenile standing in front of a store, peering through the front window. They also saw another black male in the vicinity of the store. The officers did not know either of them. The officers noticed the juvenile manipulating something in his right front pants pocket. One officer, Detective William Doogan, concluded that the juvenile was about to rob the store and asked the other officers, "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" The judge stated, "Based upon a 10 second glance, the officers collectively decided to stop the juvenile."

At the officers' approach, the juvenile saw the unmarked cruiser and "quickly" walked into the store. Doogan "quickly" followed the juvenile down an aisle to the rear of the store. "As the detective approached, he noticed the [juvenile] bent down towards his right foot and stated that it appeared he was placing something in his right sock." Doogan did not see the object that was placed in the sock or a bulge in the juvenile's outer clothing.2 As Doogan approached, the juvenile stood straight up and began to reach for a bag of snack food. Doogan ordered the juvenile not to move and immediately pat frisked him and found the firearm in his sock.3

In her legal conclusion, the judge determined that the juvenile was stopped when Doogan decided to follow him. The judge

450 Mass. 821

concluded that "[t]he decision to stop the [juvenile] hinges solely on his action of peering into the window of an open convenience store while at the same time placing his right hand in his pant pocket. This action alone does not amount to an objective, factual basis for reasonable suspicion that the juvenile was engaged in criminal activity." She also concluded that when Doogan pat frisked the juvenile, there was no danger, and thus the patfrisk was not justified.4

882 N.E.2d 332

Discussion. In reviewing a motion to suppress, we adopt the motion judge's factual findings absent clear error. Commonwealth v. Catanzaro, 441 Mass. 46, 50, 803 N.E.2d 287 (2004), and cases cited. We independently determine whether the judge correctly applied constitutional principles to the facts as found. Id.

In determining whether Doogan's actions were constitutionally permissible, we must first identify when the seizure occurred. Commonwealth v. DePeiza, 449 Mass. 367, 369, 868 N.E.2d 90 (2007). A person is seized by the police, "if, in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave." Commonwealth v. Borges, 395 Mass. 788, 791, 482 N.E.2d 314 (1985), quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980). "[N]ot every encounter between a law enforcement official and a member of the public constitutes an intrusion of constitutional dimensions requiring justification." Commonwealth v. Stoute, 422 Mass., 782, 789, 665 N.E.2d 93 (1996).

450 Mass. 822

The judge erred when she concluded that the seizure occurred while the officers were in their car and "collectively decided to stop the juvenile." Any subjective intent the officers may have had to stop the juvenile is irrelevant because, while the intent remained uncommunicated, it could have no impact on whether the juvenile felt free to leave. Commonwealth v. Barros, 435 Mass. 171, 174-175, 755 N.E.2d 740...

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    • February 7, 2022
    ...explicitly or implicitly credited the witness's testimony." Commonwealth v. Isaiah I., 448 Mass. 334, 337, 861 N.E.2d 404 (2007), S.C., 450 Mass. 818, 882 N.E.2d 328 (2008). Here, Connolly's "uncontroverted and undisputed" testimony, which the judge explicitly credited, established that Con......
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