Monday, June 05, 2006

Police Stops Limited

In Commonwealth v. DePeiza, the Massachusetts Appeals Court Friday limited the circumstances in which police officers may stop and frisk individuals walking down the street. The case centered on a man who was stopped walking through Dorchester with one arm held stiffly, a posture police believed suggested he was carrying a concealed weapon. The man was stopped and frisked and a weapon was found. The opinion says, in part, "According to the Commonwealth, the defendant's walk, coupled with his subsequent nervousness, avoiding of eye contact, shifting from side to side, and shielding of his right jacket pocket (which contained a heavy object) from the officers' view, created a reasonable suspicion that he was carrying a concealed firearm and was not licensed to do so. We disagree. " "Prior to encountering the defendant, the officers had neither observed nor received any report of criminal activity, a firearm being brandished, or shots being fired." "His activities do not take on a sinister cast merely because the street on which he is walking is located in Dorchester.""An individual's manner of walking, like his hairstyle or clothing, is by itself too idiosyncratic to serve as the basis for a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity."

According to the Boston Globe, "Boston police officials...vigorously disagreed with the appeal court's ruling and said that for the time being they will not alter their methods of street policing. Superintendent Robert Dunford said the decision was divorced from the realities of the streets."

More information on this and other police procedure issues is available at Mass. Law About Criminal Procedure.