Coalition Asks Mass. SJC to Affirm Suppression in Pretextual Stop of Black Motorist

On August 24, 2021, we filed an amicus brief at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court along with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the New England Innocence Project in the case of Earl Garner.

In 2017, Mr. Garner, a Black man, was stopped by three gang unit state troopers in an unmarked car for civil motor vehicle infractions. One of the troopers had stopped him four times before, and had arrested him for gun possession six years earlier. However, the repeated recent stops had yielded no contraband and no criminal charges except one instance of driving on a suspended license. Mr. Garner seemed nervous but answered questions, complied with instructions, volunteered consent to search the car, exited upon request, stepped back from the car, and called out for a friend. However, the police officers decided, based on unsupported “training and experience,” that Mr. Garner was likely in “fight or flight” mode and decided to swiftly patfrisk him.

After a hearing on a motion to suppress, the motion judge determined that police did not have reasonable suspicion that Mr. Garner was both dangerous and armed–the standard required for a patfrisk under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights–and granted his motion to suppress. But a panel of the Appeals Court erroneously reversed. We ask the Supreme Judicial Court to affirm the motion judge, and to require that, when police officers testify to their training and experience, trial judges act as gatekeepers and subject their testimony to the heightened standard required of expert opinion testimony.

Especially in the context of vehicle stops, which this Court has already found are a breeding ground for racial profiling, the Court must set guardrails to assure that police methods and suspicions are objective, factual, and not born of unconscious bias.

Read our brief:

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