6 HOUR TIME LAPSE NOT SUFFICIENT TO SUPPRESS STOP

In Commonwealth v. Hernandez, in affirming the defendant’s convictions of first-degree murder, armed robbery, and related offenses, arising from two separate criminal incidents, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the judge did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the firearm that was used in the commission of the crimes. After the first incident, an armed robbery, the two victims reported that the perpetrators were in “a green Honda Civic sedan, bearing a specified license plate number, and with a Dominican Republic flag hanging from the rear view mirror. The perpetrators were described generally as Hispanic males.” Six hours later, Officer Hanson “learned through a police dispatch that an armed home invasion had occurred …, that a handgun had been used, and that two occupants had been shot. Hanson knew that the location of the invasion was approximately fifty yards from the earlier armed robbery.” As he drove his cruiser in the vicinity of the two incidents, Hanson “came up behind a vehicle matching the exact description [given by the victims of the armed robbery], including the license plate number and the Dominican flag.” Hanson followed the vehicle, which made “evasive movements” such as “failing to stop at a stop sign and turning 180 degrees from [its] initial direction.” After stopping upon Hanson’s command, the driver (the defendant) acted belligerently and “made furtive gestures.” Hanson and backup officers removed the defendant and his passenger (Hill), both of whom appeared to be Hispanic, from the vehicle. “The officers searched the vehicle, and after finding no weapons or contraband in the passenger’s compartment, they opened the trunk” in order to search for the firearm involved in the armed robbery. In the trunk they found a handgun. “Shortly thereafter, one of the robbery victims was brought to the scene for a showup identification. She identified Hill as one of the robbers.”

The issue before the SJC was “whether the police had probable cause to search the trunk before the showup identification; and if not, whether the Commonwealth met its burden to prove that the firearm [was] admissible under the inevitable discovery doctrine.”

In its decision, the Court ruled that under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, the police had probable cause to search the entirety of the defendant’s vehicle, including the trunk. In so ruling, the Court explicitly rejected the defendant’s argument that the police lacked probable cause in light of “the six-hour gap between the armed robbery and the stop.” The Court opined, “Although it is possible that the perpetrators of the robbery could have hidden the firearm elsewhere in the time that passed, it is a reasonable inference that the firearm, evidence not easily disposed of, was hidden in the trunk.”

The Court also ruled that “[e]ven if the officers acted prematurely in opening the trunk, the firearm would still be admissible” under the inevitable discovery doctrine. The Court explained that after the showup identification of Hill as a participant in the armed robbery, it was “certain as a practical matter” that the police would search the trunk.

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