State Supreme Court Confirms: Taunton Man Illegally Pat-Frisked
TAUNTON — Evidence against a Taunton man arrested and charged with firearms offenses after a pat frisk during a traffic stop has been suppressed following a decision from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
According to a June 24 opinion, the state's highest court agreed with Earl Garner's defense that a pat frisk conducted by state troopers who stopped him on a minor traffic violation was illegal.
Garner was stopped by three state police troopers in Taunton one night after they saw a vehicle with tinted windows make two abrupt turns, according to the written decision.
As they approached the vehicle, the court notes, one of the troopers and the defendant recognized each other.
Trooper Paul Dunderdale had stopped Garner five times over the past several years, and knew that he had previously been convicted twice of illegally possessing a gun.
At issue is whether the pat frisk of Garner was permissable, as frisking is only allowed if officers have a "reasonable suspicion" that the suspect is armed and dangerous.
According to court documents, the troopers' decision to frisk Garner stemmed in part from Dunderdale's knowledge of his previous crimes, but in larger part from the defendant's behavior during the stop.
Prosecutors described Garner's behavior as "unusual and suspicious," leading troopers to believe that he was preparing to flee, according to the court's decision.
But the Supreme Judicial Court wrote that a lower court judge did not find Garner's behavior to show him acting "excessively" nervous or suspicious, contradicting the commonwealth's claims.
As for his prior criminal activity, the court called it "somewhat stale" — his most recent conviction at that time was six years prior — and noted that it "carries little weight."
"We unanimously agree with the judge's conclusion that the defendant's seemingly uncharacteristic behavior did not raise a reasonable inference that he was armed and dangerous," the justices wrote in their decision.
"Because the defendant's reactions to the traffic stop did not justify the subsequent patfrisk, we affirm the judge's decision to allow the motion to suppress."
Following the SJC's decision, the evidence obtained by state police during the pat frisk will not be allowed in court.