What Are My Rights If I’m Pulled Over In Massachusetts

September 27, 2022 by Anthony Riccio

Knowing your legal rights is crucial if you’re being questioned by the police. The police may react poorly or even arrest you if you become irritated, so try to remain composed and courteous at all times. Generally speaking, you have the option to refuse to answer any inquiries from the police and to speak with a lawyer first. 

However, in some situations, jurisdictions demand that citizens give their identities and addresses to the police. In Massachusetts, being in a motor vehicle is the only circumstance under which you are required to give the police your name and address. When pulled over in Massachusetts, you should know your rights about what is illegal and legal during a traffic stop.

Legal Reasons to Pull Someone Over in Massachusetts

An officer cannot stop a motorist without a good reason. We are granted a number of rights under the US Constitution, including defenses against arbitrary detention. Before asking a driver to stop and pull over their car, an officer must have “reasonable suspicion” that illegal conduct took place. It’s crucial to be aware that an officer has the authority to stop a driver if there is “reasonable suspicion” that any crime has been committed.

Driving is a privilege granted to those that pass a driving test and obtain a proper license. Those behind the wheel agree to follow traffic laws and regulations every time they drive. When these regulations are not followed, a person risks being pulled over. Valid reasons why a police officer may pull a person over include, but are not limited to: 

  • Expired plates
  • Failure to stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk 
  • Failure to stop for a stop sign or red light 
  • Reckless driving and swerving 
  • Speeding 
  • Vehicle issues like a missing tail light 

There are many valid reasons to be pulled over in Massachusetts. However, being pulled over does not give the officer the right to search the car or person without reasonable suspicion of other illegal conduct. 

Illegal Reasons to Pull Someone Over in Massachusetts

The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable” searches and seizures, but over time, the court’s definition of what is “unreasonable” has changed and evolved. Over the past few decades, there has been a general tendency toward giving police officers more discretion and often the benefit of the doubt when stopping and searching people.

Traffic stops are one prominent instance where Fourth Amendment rights are in question. In most cases (with limited exclusions like sobriety checks), a stop of a driver by a police officer must be based on a reasonable suspicion that the driver has broken the law. However, courts frequently support Fourth Amendment stops when an officer notices an automobile based on suspicion or even racial profiling.

In the event of being pulled over for no reason, the Supreme Court recently ruled in Heien v. North Carolina that a stop can be valid (even if there was no suspicion for the stop or a mistake of law) if the officer was acting in a “reasonable” manner. 

Fortunately, Massachusetts law provides more protection than what the Fourth Amendment requires, according to the Supreme Court’s view in Heien. According to Massachusetts courts, a mistake of fact or law does not warrant a proper stop. To legally conduct a stop, the police must, at the very least, have a reasonable suspicion that the person being stopped actually broke the law.

Massachusetts and Federal Laws to Know When Being Pulled Over

In Massachusetts, if you are stopped while operating a motor vehicle, individuals are required to identify themselves to the police upon inquiry or face criminal charges. So that individuals may be certain the person asking you for information is, in fact, a police officer, they also have the right to request that the police identify themselves. Under Massachusetts law G.L. c. 90, Section 25 and Commonwealth v. Schiller, anyone operating or in charge of a motor vehicle in Massachusetts is required by law to identify themselves or face a fine. 

The fourth amendment protects against being searched at a traffic stop. Police may conduct a person-search if they suspect a weapon is there, even though motorist are not required to consent to a search of their person or their possessions. Although expressing a timely objection before or during the search will help safeguard one’s rights in any subsequent legal proceedings, it should be noted that declining consent may not prevent the officer from conducting the search against your will.

Examples of Illegal Stops in Massachusetts

A man was arrested after being pulled over while driving from Massachusetts to New Jersey. When police stopped his car for a traffic violation in Massachusetts, they looked inside and discovered leftover Valentine’s Day sweets.

The police detained the man and filed criminal charges against him for possession after concluding that he was in possession of drugs. Nearly three months later, the heart-shaped candies were identified as candy by the State Police Office of Forensic Sciences lab. 

Officer Michael Holland of the Palisades Interstate Park Police stopped the man, who was traveling with his uncle on the Palisades Interstate Parkway.

According to the court, the officer asked both guys for identification and inquired about their nationality. The driver responded that he was a citizen of the United States now but was originally from Haiti. Then another member of the Park Police showed up at the traffic stop. After ordering the two men out of the car and frisking them, the officers asked a third officer to join them in the search of the vehicle.

The court concluded that the stop and arrest were not made under reasonable suspicion and with no probable cause. Further, the court stated that this was in clear violation of their constitutional rights. 

Hiring a Lawyer After Being Pulled Over in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the police must have a good reason before stopping your car. If the police discover that you have an active warrant, they may stop you. In addition, the police may stop you for driving a vehicle that is not in proper working condition. If you or a loved one has been pulled over without valid suspicion, it is imperative that you contact an attorney today. Your constitutional rights were likely validated for an unreasonable stop, search, and or seizure.