Brockton Man Charged With Possession With Intent to Distribute Heroin, Assault and Battery on a Police Officer After Motor Vehicle Stop Becomes Violent
Just a couple of days ago a Massachusetts State Trooper stopped a car that he witnessed run a stop sign. His intention was to issue a citation to the driver. When he approached the car the passenger made a furtive movement towards his legs. The officer asked him to get out of the car. The passenger, Jesus Silva-Santiago complied. Then, according to reports Silva-Santiago punched the cop in the face. A chase followed. The trooper caught up with the defendant and the fighting continued. The trooper was able to subdue Silva-Santiago with the help of some Brockton police officers who responded in support. Jesus-Santiago was transported to the police station for booking. There, officers located eighteen bags of heroin tucked in his buttocks cheeks. Jesus-Santiago was charged with Possession With the Intent to Distribute Class A, Heroin, a Second and Subsequent Offense, Assault and Battery on a Police Officer and Disorderly Conduct. The case is currently in the Brockton District Court however it will likely be indicted and prosecuted in the Plymouth County Superior Court.
As a Massachusetts Criminal Lawyer I really enjoy defending cases like this one. Like many Drug Crimes in Massachusetts, the strength of the district attorney's case lies in the legality of the police officer's actions. The stop of the motor vehicle will probably survive a challenge however the Exit Order may not. Exit Orders, ordering a driver or passenger out of a car, have become the source of considerable litigation in Massachusetts. The success of Silva-Santiago's defense will hinge on the validity of the trooper's actions in forcing the defendant to exit the car.
Federal Courts have embraced the rule that under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution police officers may order both the driver and passenger out of a car. There is not need to show facts warranting the officer to be reasonable apprehensive. However, as is often the case, the Massachusetts Courts and Constitution provide more protection. A 1999 Massachusetts set out the rule for exit orders as follows: "art. 14 requires that a police officer, in a routine traffic stop, must have a reasonable belief that the officer's safety, or the safety of others, is in danger before ordering a driver out of a motor vehicle." The test is whether or not a reasonably prudent person in the police officer's position would be justified in believing that his safety or the safety of others was in danger.
The officer contends that Silva-Santiago "reached down below his legs". This gave him concern for his safety. So here is the question in this case. Did he have a reasonable belief that his safety or the safety of others was in danger based on what he saw Silva-Santiago do? The analysis for this challenge is done on a case by case basis viewing the totality of the circumstances. I would be interested in seeing the police report for this incident to see what if anything, in addition to the defendant's movements led the officer to fear for his safety. A successful Motion to Suppress might result in a dismissal of all the Drug Charges.