Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

How a Defective Headlight can Lead to Prison

A traffic stop at the end of June 2020 for a defective headlight in Boston resulted in Massachusetts State Police seizing two firearms and arresting three men who attempted to flee from the scene. When questioned, the driver stated that he did not have a license. 

When the vehicle was about to be towed, law enforcement stated that the two passengers sprinted away and that one dropped a handgun. Law enforcement chased the men. One of the men was holding something close to his right hip as he ran, but fell to the ground and gave the item up. Law enforcement found a gun after searching for the man. In all, two fully loaded firearms were seized. 

Law enforcement officers in Massachusetts often stop motorists for moving and traffic violations, but a stop for something like a defective headlight usually does not end up in a search of a vehicle unless the officer finds reasonable suspicion that the motorist is in violation of much more serious laws.

How Law Enforcement Finds Reasonable Suspicion

For law enforcement to have a reason to validly search a vehicle, they must have reasonable suspicion that the driver or passenger is doing something illegal. Often, reasonable suspicion is the result of a law enforcement officer observing something like a person in a vehicle drinking alcohol, drugs being out in the open, or open or observable firearms in a vehicle. Without any facts that support reasonable suspicion, a subsequent arrest is often not lawful. Law enforcement also requires reasonable suspicion, which is more than a hunch, to search the stopped vehicle or this constitutes a violation of the US Constitution.

If a law enforcement officer stopped a vehicle with a broken signal, and there were no other incriminating details present, this would almost certainly not be justification to search the vehicle. If contraband or some other illegal activity was visible through the window or the officers could smell either drugs or alcohol, this might give grounds for reasonable suspicion on which to base a search.

The Role of Probable Cause

Provided that a motorist does not allow them to do so, law enforcement must have probable cause to search a vehicle. If law enforcement stops a person for a broken tail light, this does not mean that the officer now has the authority to search the vehicle. Legitimate reasons to stop a driver do not also constitute probable cause. Instead, law enforcement often will stop the driver and ask them enough questions to see if it provides grounds for probable cause and the search of the vehicle. 

This is why if you are pulled over by a police officer, you should not give any more details than what the officer requests. Other than this information, you should remain silent throughout the encounter. Any information you provide the officer during the stop can later be used against you by law enforcement. 

Speak with a Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney

To avoid facing undesirable charges, you should not hesitate to obtain the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Contact attorney Edward R Molari today to schedule a free case evaluation.