Commonwealth v. Long, SJC-12868

CourtMassachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Writing for the CourtGAZIANO, J.
Citation485 Mass. 711,152 N.E.3d 725
Docket NumberSJC-12868
Decision Date17 September 2020
Parties COMMONWEALTH v. Edward LONG.

485 Mass. 711
152 N.E.3d 725

COMMONWEALTH
v.
Edward LONG.

SJC-12868

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk..

Argued March 3, 2020
Decided September 17, 2020


John P. Warren for the defendant.

Cailin M. Campbell, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Rebecca Kiley, Committee for Public Counsel Services, Matthew R. Segal, Jessica Lewis, Boston, & Jessie J. Rossman, for Committee for Public Counsel Services & another, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

Oren N. Nimni, Katharine Naples-Mitchell, Chauncey B. Wood, Boston, & Radha Natarajan, for Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.1

GAZIANO, J.

485 Mass. 712

At about eleven o'clock on a November morning, two members of the Boston police department's youth violence strike force, who had been driving an unmarked vehicle, noticed a maroon Mercedes pass in front of them on a residential street. The driver was a Black man. The officers decided to query the vehicle's license plate in their onboard computer. The results returned indicated that the vehicle was registered to a Black woman and that it lacked an inspection sticker. The officers stopped the vehicle. When they learned that the driver, the defendant, had outstanding warrants and his driver's license was suspended, they searched the vehicle and found a gun in a bag on the rear passenger seat.

The defendant subsequently was

152 N.E.3d 731

charged with several firearms offenses.2 He moved to suppress the evidence seized from the vehicle, on the ground that the motor vehicle stop was the product of selective enforcement based on race, and the inventory search of the vehicle was impermissible. A Superior Court judge determined that the defendant had not met his initial burden to raise a reasonable inference that the stop had been made been motivated by race, and that the decision to impound the vehicle was reasonable in the circumstances; he therefore denied the motion. The defendant sought leave in the county court to pursue an interlocutory appeal; the single justice allowed the application and ordered the appeal to be conducted in this court.

We conclude that the Superior Court judge abused his discretion in denying the motion to suppress, because the defendant produced sufficient evidence to raise a reasonable inference that the stop was racially motivated. Nonetheless, we are persuaded that, in our efforts in Commonwealth v. Lora, 451 Mass. 425, 436-438, 886 N.E.2d 688 (2008), to ease the burden on defendants, we set the bar too high for defendants attempting to establish a reasonable inference of a discriminatory stop. In practice, providing statistical evidence sufficient to raise a reasonable inference that a

485 Mass. 713

motor vehicle stop was racially motivated, given the limitations of available police data, has proved infeasible for defendants. The judge's ruling well illustrates the concerns repeatedly raised about the difficulty of meeting the requirements set forth in Lora, supra at 447-449, 886 N.E.2d 688. See Commonwealth v. Buckley, 478 Mass. 861, 879-880, 90 N.E.3d 767 (2018) (Budd, J., concurring), and cases cited.

Thus, in order to ensure that drivers who are subjected to racially motivated traffic stops have a viable means by which to vindicate their rights to the equal protection of the laws, as provided by the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, we today establish a revised test. A defendant seeking to suppress evidence based on a claim that a traffic stop violated principles of equal protection bears the burden of establishing, by motion, a reasonable inference that the officer's decision to initiate the stop was motivated by race or another protected class. To raise this inference, the defendant must point to specific facts from the totality of the circumstances surrounding the stop; the inference need not be based in statistical analysis. If this inference is established, the defendant is entitled to a hearing at which the Commonwealth would have the burden of rebutting the inference. Absent a successful rebuttal, any evidence derived from the stop would be suppressed.3

1. Background. We present the facts as found by the motion judge, supplemented by uncontroverted facts from the record that the judge "explicitly or implicitly credited," reserving certain details for discussion. See

152 N.E.3d 732

Commonwealth v. Jones-Pannell, 472 Mass. 429, 431, 35 N.E.3d 357 (2015) ("Although an appellate court may supplement a motion judge's subsidiary findings with evidence from the record that is uncontroverted and undisputed and where the judge explicitly or implicitly credited the witness's testimony, ... it may do so only so long as the supplemented facts do not detract from the judge's ultimate findings" [quotations and citations omitted] ).

At approximately 11 A.M. on November 28, 2017, the defendant, a young Black man, was driving a Mercedes sport utility vehicle (SUV) on a well-traveled and largely residential road in the Clam Point section of Boston. Two plainclothes officers from the Boston police department's youth violence strike force (gang

485 Mass. 714

unit)4 were sitting in an unmarked vehicle on a side street, where they were waiting to make a right turn onto the road on which the defendant was driving.

The defendant drove past the side street, and the officers turned onto the main road directly behind his vehicle. They did not observe a traffic violation, but one of the officers decided to enter the vehicle's license plate number into the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) database. The query revealed that the defendant's vehicle was registered to a Black woman, later identified by the defendant as his girlfriend. The query also showed that the vehicle did not have a current inspection sticker.

The officers decided to stop the vehicle on the basis of the missing inspection sticker. When the officers activated their lights and siren, the defendant pulled into a lawful parking spot on the side of the street. The officers requested his driver's license; the defendant explained that he did not have a driver's license, only a permit, which he provided the officers. Although they had never encountered each other, one of the officers recognized the defendant's name and photograph from the gang unit's database. After conducting a query of the defendant's information in the CJIS database, the officers learned that his driver's license was suspended, and that he had two default warrants for operating without a license and failure to identify himself. The officers ordered him out of the vehicle and handcuffed him.

The officers, who testified that they were aware of thefts, vandalism, and shootings in the vicinity, decided to tow and impound what they deemed to be a "high-end" vehicle, which did not belong to the defendant.5 Before towing the vehicle, one officer began to search it. During the search, he observed what he believed was the handle of a gun inside an open bag on the rear passenger seat. Once he confirmed that the object indeed was a firearm, he read the defendant the Miranda warnings and then inquired whether the defendant had a license to carry a firearm. When the defendant responded that he did not, the officers called dispatch to transport the defendant to the police station.

2. Prior proceedings. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized from the vehicle on the ground that the stop

485 Mass. 715

was impermissible because it was the result of selective enforcement of the traffic laws based on race, and the inventory search was an unlawful search for investigatory purposes, as impoundment of

152 N.E.3d 733

the vehicle was not necessary. The defendant obtained an expert in statistics (a mathematics professor who has published numerous articles and reports, and had testified previously in the Superior Court and the District Court). The expert testified at an evidentiary hearing on the motion, and introduced a report on her findings. The judge found that the datasets used by the expert were "insufficiently reliable to yield results that could raise a reasonable inference of impermissible discrimination," and denied the motion. The defendant filed a timely notice of appeal and an application in the county court for leave to pursue an interlocutory appeal. See Mass. R. Crim. P. 15 (a) (2), as amended, 476 Mass. 1501 (2017). The single justice allowed the appeal to proceed in this court.

3. Discussion. In Lora, 451 Mass. at 437-438, 886 N.E.2d 688, we adapted general principles of our jurisprudence on selective prosecution in an attempt to address the persistent and pernicious problem of racial profiling in traffic enforcement. Today, we conclude that that decision placed too great an evidentiary burden on defendants, and that we must lower this burden in order to create a viable path for individuals to...

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10 practice notes
  • Commonwealth v. Sweeting-Bailey, SJC-13086
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • December 22, 2021
    ...role played by racism and other invidious classifications in the way facially neutral laws actually are enforced." Commonwealth v. Long, 485 Mass. 711, 716 (2020). See Commonwealth v. Evelyn, 485 Mass. 691, 701 (2020). In announcing the "stop and frisk" rule in Terry, the Supreme Court conc......
  • United States v. Weaver, 18-1697-cr
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • August 16, 2021
    ...equal protection lawsuit. But the sky has not fallen in States that have long declined to follow Whren. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Long, 485 Mass. 711, 712, 152 N.E.3d 725 (2020) (holding that a trial court judge "abused his discretion in denying [a] motion to suppress, because the defendan......
  • State v. Warren, No. 19-0267
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • March 5, 2021
    ...Judicial Court adopted a burden-shifting approach for persons allegedly subjected to racially motivated stops. Commonwealth v. Long , 485 Mass. 711, 152 N.E.3d 725, 731 (2020). This allows the defendant to point to specific facts presenting "a reasonable inference that the officer's decisio......
  • Commonwealth v. Monell, No. 20-P-821
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • April 16, 2021
    ...affect people of color," even where driver was not stopped merely for "driving while black"). See also Commonwealth v. Long, 485 Mass. 711, 717, 152 N.E.3d 725 (2020) ("This court has identified the discriminatory enforcement 99 Mass.App.Ct. 493 of traffic laws as particularly toxic").2 168......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • United States v. Weaver, No. 18-1697-cr
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • August 16, 2021
    ...equal protection lawsuit. But the sky has not fallen in States that have long declined to follow Whren. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Long, 485 Mass. 711, 712, 152 N.E.3d 725 (2020) (holding that a trial court judge "abused his discretion in denying [a] motion to suppress, because the def......
  • Commonwealth v. Sweeting-Bailey, SJC-13086
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • December 22, 2021
    ...played by racism and other invidious classifications in the way facially neutral laws actually are enforced." Commonwealth v. Long, 485 Mass. 711, 716 (2020). See Commonwealth v. Evelyn, 485 Mass. 691, 701 (2020). In announcing the "stop and frisk" rule in Terry, the Supreme ......
  • Commonwealth v. Monell, No. 20-P-821
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • April 16, 2021
    ...people of color," even where driver was not stopped merely for "driving while black"). See also Commonwealth v. Long, 485 Mass. 711, 717, 152 N.E.3d 725 (2020) ("This court has identified the discriminatory enforcement 99 Mass.App.Ct. 493 of traffic laws as particularly ......
  • State v. Warren, No. 19-0267
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • March 5, 2021
    ...Judicial Court adopted a burden-shifting approach for persons allegedly subjected to racially motivated stops. Commonwealth v. Long , 485 Mass. 711, 152 N.E.3d 725, 731 (2020). This allows the defendant to point to specific facts presenting "a reasonable inference that the officer's de......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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