A Salem, Massachusetts police officer became suspicious the other day when he saw a car with dark tinted windows. He then followed the car. He observed the car failing to stop for people in a crosswalk. The officer pulled the car over and quickly learned that the driver, Julio Cruz of Salem, Massachusetts was Operating With a Suspended License. Cruz, who was known to the officer claimed that he was out delivering pizza. No pizzas were in the car. Cruz was then arrested. His passenger, Enrique Gray-Santana, also of Salem, Massachusetts was also arrested for carrying a knife with a blade longer than permissible by town ordinance. The car was towed. It was also searched. Inside of the vehicle officers found enough cocaine to justify a trafficking charge. Both men now face charges of Trafficking Cocaine in the Salem District Court. If the weight of the cocaine satisfies trafficking threshholds then the case will be prosecuted in the Essex County Superior Court in Salem. Cruz has a pending Cocaine Distribution case pending in the same county.
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Depending on the information contained in the police reports the district attorney’s case here might be susceptible to a Motion to Suppress. Forget about the stop for a minute. Forget about the “Motor Vehicle Violation”. Even if there is justification for the stop the officer’s conduct might have exceeded what is permissible under the United States Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The law in Massachusetts does permit what are called “inventory searches” in some situations. The police may search someone arrested at the place of detention to secure the person’s property. An inventory policy must be followed to justify the search and if done properly the items seized can be used as evidence against that person. Inventory Searches of Motor Vehicles however are subject to a different procedure. Impounding motor vehicles is generally found to be justifiable if the district attorney can show public safety concerns or a risk of vandalism or theft to the vehicle if abandoned at the scene of the arrest. If an unarrested passenger can drive the car the impoundment will be considered illegal. Subsequent searches of the impounded vehicle might however be subject to a constitutional challenge. For example, Massachusetts Courts have held that the search of a towed car was investigatory and not an inventory search where the police used a drug sniffing dog to find drugs. Investigatory searches require Search Warrants. Inventory searches do not. Police inventory polices must be in writing and followed for an inventory search to survive a Motion to Suppress. Inventory searches have three purposes in Massachusetts; to protect the property in the car, to protect the police against claims of theft and to protect the public from danger. It is the district attorney’s burden to establish that he search was a lawful inventory search.
The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman has won motions to suppress and had cases dismissed by challenging pretextual inventory searches. We fight for all of our clients to ensure that justice is done. If you have been charged with a crime call us at 617-263-6800 or email us. We can help you.