Commonwealth v. Daveiga

Decision Date24 March 2022
Docket NumberSJC-13147
Citation489 Mass. 342,183 N.E.3d 1127
Parties COMMONWEALTH v. Erickson DAVEIGA.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Susan E. Taylor, New Bedford, for the defendant.

Benjamin Shorey, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Rebecca Kiley, Committee for Public Counsel Services, Jessie J. Rossman, Matthew R. Segal, Katharine Naples-Mitchell, Chauncey B. Wood, & Radha Natarajan, for Committee for Public Counsel Services & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

Present: Gaziano, Lowy, Cypher, Kafker, Wendlandt, & Georges, JJ.

GAZIANO, J.

We consider in this case whether police may conduct a traffic stop on the basis of a traffic violation after having resolved the violation at a prior encounter, and then having allowed the vehicle to leave, and where no other traffic violation took place before the stop. While on routine patrol, two Boston police officers in an unmarked vehicle approached a vehicle that was double-parked, blocking a narrow street. They pulled closely alongside the parked vehicle, with the driver's window of the unmarked car adjacent to the rear passenger's side window of the impermissibly parked vehicle. The defendant was sitting in the rear seat on the driver's side; one of the officers recognized him from prior interactions and attempted to engage him in cordial conversation. Following a brief discussion with the driver about the fact that the vehicle was impeding traffic and had to move, the officers allowed the vehicle to leave, purportedly to park elsewhere on the street.

The officers nonetheless continued to follow the vehicle, and after it went past multiple open parking spots and turned onto another street, they pulled the vehicle over to conduct a traffic stop. During the stop, an officer observed a gun on the floor of the rear seat compartment, near the defendant's feet; the defendant was ordered out of the vehicle and arrested. The defendant challenges the constitutionality of the traffic stop under art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. We conclude that the traffic stop was unreasonable under art. 14 because police authority to conduct the stop ended when the officers resolved the parking violation in a separate, discrete encounter.

1. Background. The essential facts are undisputed. We present the facts based on the motion judge's findings, supplemented by other testimony at the hearing by one of the arresting officers. See Commonwealth v. Washington, 449 Mass. 476, 477, 869 N.E.2d 605 (2007). The motion judge explicitly credited that officer's testimony.

On an early morning in August 2017, Boston police Officers Joseph McDonough and Christopher Stevens were on routine patrol in the Uphams Corner area of Boston. Both officers had years of experience working in that part of Boston. They were driving an unmarked vehicle and were wearing plain clothes.

At approximately 4 A . M ., while driving on Monadnock Street, the officers came across a double-parked Chrysler Pacifica, largely blocking the road, in violation of Boston Traffic Rules and Regulations, art. VI, § 7.1 Monadnock is a narrow, one-way street at that point, and vehicles were permitted to park on both sides of the street. McDonough squeezed partway through on the driver's right, pulling alongside the passenger's side of the Pacifica and positioning his driver's window within inches of its rear passenger's side window.

The Pacifica was occupied by four men: the driver, a front seat passenger, and two rear seat passengers. The defendant was in the rear seat behind the driver. McDonough told the driver, "You guys are blocking the street." The men responded that they were waiting for a friend. McDonough replied, "How am I going to get by? You're blocking the street." The driver then asked, "What do you want us to do?" McDonough looked across the rear seat at the defendant and noticed that he was staring straight ahead. McDonough was familiar with the defendant from at least thirty prior encounters, and had arrested him at least three times, including once in July of 2016 for a firearms offense. Nonetheless, McDonough considered that the two had a cordial relationship. The defendant referred to McDonough, who is bald, by the nickname "Baldy." Hours before this encounter, McDonough had seen the defendant walking, and the defendant had smiled and nodded at him.

In light of their relationship, McDonough thought that the defendant's demeanor in the Pacifica was unusual. He asked, "How are you, pal? Are you doing good today?" In a low tone, the defendant said that he was okay. The driver then told McDonough that he would move the Pacifica and park elsewhere, gesturing toward several open parking spots nearby. McDonough responded, "Yeah, sure, all right," and backed up to give the Pacifica more space to pull forward.

The Pacifica proceeded down Monadnock Street, passed the open parking spots the driver had indicated, and turned left onto Dudley Street, without committing any further traffic violations. Because a right turn would have been a more direct route back to Monadnock Street, the officers grew suspicious. McDonough then changed his mind about pulling over the Pacifica. After about ten to fifteen seconds, he activated the unmarked vehicle's blue lights, pursued the Pacifica, and pulled it over.

McDonough and Stevens got out of their vehicle and approached the Pacifica. McDonough walked to the driver's side window and asked the driver to produce his license and registration. The defendant then asked McDonough, "Baldy, what are you doing? Why are you doing this? Are you really going to do this now?" McDonough replied that he was conducting a motor vehicle stop. Meanwhile, Stevens stood on the passenger's side of the vehicle, looking into the rear compartment with a flashlight.

Stevens then said to McDonough, "Hey, Joe," and quickly walked over to him. Based on Stevens's reaction, McDonough inferred that Stevens might have seen a gun. McDonough ordered the defendant and the other occupants out of the vehicle. The officers found a gun on the floor near where the defendant's feet had been. McDonough knew that the defendant did not have a license to carry firearms; the defendant then was placed in handcuffs.

The officers did not issue a traffic citation to the driver. According to his testimony at the hearing on the motion to suppress, McDonough could not recall whether he had had a ticket book with him, although one could have been delivered to him upon request.

The defendant was charged with carrying a firearm without a license, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a ) ; carrying a loaded firearm, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (n ) ; and possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card, G. L. c. 269, § 10 (h ) (1) He filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized, arguing that the traffic stop was unreasonable. The motion judge noted that the case "tests the limits of what are known as ‘pretext’ car stops," but ultimately denied the motion. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of carrying a firearm without a license and acquitted of the other charges.2 He timely appealed to the Appeals Court, and we transferred the case to this court on our motion.3

2. Discussion. The defendant challenges the denial of his motion to suppress, on the ground that the traffic stop on Dudley Street violated art. 14. The defendant contends that the Pacifica was stopped twice, initially on Monadnock Street, and then again on Dudley Street. He argues that the latter stop was unreasonable because any authority to detain him ended after the first stop of the Pacifica, where police resolved the parking violation and then allowed the driver to leave and drive to another parking space. The defendant maintains that even if the initial encounter was not a stop, the stop on Dudley Street nonetheless was unreasonable, because the police had effectuated the purpose of the encounter, to resolve the traffic violation, at which point their authority to hold the defendant ended. The Commonwealth argues that the encounter on Monadnock Street was not a stop and therefore had little, if any, legal significance. Once the officers observed a traffic violation, the Commonwealth suggests, they were warranted in thereafter stopping the Pacifica.

We have yet to address the question whether police may conduct a traffic stop on the basis of a traffic violation after having earlier addressed the violation and resolved the situation in a separate, discrete encounter. In order to resolve this question, we first must determine the precise moment of the seizure here.

"In reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress evidence, we accept the judge's subsidiary findings of fact absent clear error and leave to the judge the responsibility of determining the weight and credibility to be given ... testimony presented at the motion hearing" (citation omitted) . Commonwealth v. Cordero, 477 Mass. 237, 241, 74 N.E.3d 1282 (2017). "We review independently the application of constitutional principles to the facts found" (citation omitted). Id. See Commonwealth v. Buckley, 478 Mass. 861, 864, 90 N.E.3d 767 (2018) ("we independently determine the correctness of the judge's application of constitutional principles to the facts as found" [quotation and citation omitted]).

a. Moment of seizure. The parties agree that the second encounter was a traffic stop. They disagree, however, as to the nature of the first encounter and whether it, too, was a stop in the constitutional sense, during which the defendant was held. Pointing to the close proximity between the unmarked vehicle and the Pacifica, the defendant argues that the first encounter was a traffic stop.4

Because art. 14 is more protective than the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution in defining the moment of seizure, "we analyze the seizure under ‘the more stringent standards of art. 14 with the understanding that, if these standards are satisfied, then so too are...

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