Many of you have expressed interest in the story of a driver’s posture leading to a drug arrest on Interstate 84 in Sturbridge. According to criminal defense attorney Shane W. Surrette, in this case, and in any case involving a motor vehicle stop, the police must have reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime was, is , or is about to be committed. An observed civil motor vehicle infraction such as speeding or crossing marked lanes will supply the objectively reasonable basis to stop a motor vehicle.
If the police have a sufficient basis to stop a motor vehicle, the next question is what level of suspicion is required by the police to justify an exit order of the driver or occupants. Under Massachusetts law, if the police have a reasonable suspicion of danger to themselves or the public, or if the police have suspicion that the individual person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime, then an exit order may be appropriate.
Similarly, a thorough search of a motor vehicle will only be tolerated if there is probable cause to believe that the object forming the basis of the search will be found in the vehicle. For example, if the police stop a motor vehicle for speeding and then observe cocaine within the vehicle, the police may search the interior of the vehicle based on probable cause to believe more contraband will be found within the vehicle.
Finally, if the operator of the motor vehicle is arrested for any crime and the vehicle is ordered impounded, the police may search the vehicle pursuant to the departrment’s inventory policy, if such policy is clearly laid out in writing.