The Massachusetts Appeal Courts addressed the issue of when police may make an investigatory stop based on 911 tips. The case of Commonwealth v. Alfredo Perez arose from an appeal of the defendant’s conviction in the Brockton District court of possession of a firearm without an FID card in violation of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 269 Section 10. As a Brockton gun crime lawyer, charges of unlawful possession of a firearm often raise Constitutional defenses.
In the case, Brockton police received a report of guns shots fired. A police officer responded within minutes to the call. The police then received a second dispatch claiming to seeing a car leave the area where the shots were heard. The police were able to identify the vehicle and made a motor vehicle stop.
In assessing whether the police had reasonable suspicion for the stop, the Massachusetts Appeals Court applied the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000), which addressed the issue of what type of evidence the police need to make an investigatory stop based on an anonymous tip. The Perez Court held that the Commonwealth had to establish both the indicia of reliability of the transmitted information and the particular description of the motor vehicle.
To establish particularity the Court held that the Commonwealth must show that the description provided sufficient detail to allow a police officer relying on the dispatch reasonably to suspect that the motor vehicle matched the description and was occupied by the person under investigation. To establish reliability the Commonwealth must show the basis of knowledge of the source of the information and the underlying circumstances demonstrating the source of the information was credible or the information reliable, which is known as the veracity test.
The Court found that the basis of knowledge test was satisfied with regard to both calls based on first hand observation. The Appeals Court next addressed the issue of whether the veracity component was satisfied. The Court noted greater reliability is assigned to those whose identity is known. The Court held that both calls were anonymous, with one callers identity never being known while the other caller’s identity was only known after the motor vehicle stop. The Court stated that the fact that the officers went back to the scene to speak to the first caller supports a reasonable inference that they were able to do so because the caller either identified herself or could be traced by reasonable means.
The Court found that there was no additional evidence of police investigation to corroborate the veracity of the caller. However, the court noted that it could consider the imminent nature of the threat in assessing whether there was reasonable suspicion as well as the proximity between the call, the location of the incident and place of the stop. Accordingly, the Court found that the stop was permissible under Article 14 and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
As a Massachusetts criminal lawyer, often cases involving possession of a firearm without an FID card and serious drug crimes like drug distribution or trafficking, rely primarily on the results of a motion to suppress hearing. If you have any questions about whether police conduct was Constitutional in your case or that of a loved one, family member or friend, feel free to call to discuss your case. You may contact me on my cell phone at 781-686-5924.