Sometime around three o’clock in the morning on Route 495 a Massachusetts State Trooper reportedly observed a car committing several motor vehicle violations, one of which was operating in the breakdown lane. The officer stopped the car. Then, according to a report in Boston.com, the officer developed information that resulted in him searching the vehicle. One of the passengers, Lesley Isler was found in possession of the cocaine and Percocet pills. Isler was arrested and arraigned in the Marlborough District Court on charges of trafficking cocaine and Percocet. The operator was simply given a citation for a civil motor vehicle infraction. Another passenger, Thomas Hamilton was cited for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. In accordance with recent Massachusetts law this is not a crime.
I am always troubled when I read police reports or media accounts of routine stops that result in the arrest of passengers in motor vehicles. Massachusetts law does not permit the police to order a passenger from a vehicle following a routine traffic stop. The exception is where the officer has a “reasonable apprehension of danger”. The test used by courts hearing challenges to these exit orders is an objective one. Courts look at the facts and circumstances to see if they objectively give the police a “heightened awareness of danger”. In several instances Massachusetts courts have ruled that there is no basis to interrogate a passenger after the driver has produced a valid license and registration. Protections in Massachusetts in this area are greater than those provided by the Fourth Amendment, thus making your choice of a Massachusetts criminal lawyer a very significant decision. Any time I get a client that was subject to an exit order I immediately think that a motion to suppress should be considered. A successful challenge to a search results in suppression and suppression usually means dismissal.
Aside from the legal issues that may benefit Isler I can see some factual “observations” that make no sense. Do you really believe that the driver was operating in the breakdown lane and committing a variety of motor vehicle infractions? No way. Maybe if he were impaired. But that is not even remotely suggested here. I imagine the trooper had a hunch based on the time of day, the number of occupants in the car, the race of the people in the vehicle or maybe some information from other police officers that was not disclosed. Or, perhaps an informant had a role in this but the officers are protecting that person and not being honest in how they are reporting this matter. This is something that the defendant’s lawyer will investigate.