The Wrentham District Court will hear Receiving Stolen Property charges against a Millis man because the Walpole Police stopped him for having a loud exhaust and then searched his car. According to the Walpole Times, John Chadwick was driving on Route 27 when Officer Bob Doherty noticed his loud exhaust. After the stop, Officer Doherty found that the car had an illegally altered muffler, no inspection sticker, and "a registry document that appeared to be tampered with."
The police called a tow truck performed an "inventory search." In the console, they found a global positioning system, jewelry, and gift cards. "Doherty . . . suspected that the items were stolen when the home address programmed on [the] GPS did not match Chadwick's address." The police were later able to match the items from the console to items that had been stolen from other towns. This, of course, was "great police work" according to Chief Stillman, and was great news to the owners of the property, but what about Mr. Chadwick's defense?
"Receiving" charges are brought against people when there is no evidence that they actually stole the property in their possession. To prove the charge in this case, there must be sufficient evidence to prove that Chadwick possessed the items, and knew that they had been stolen. In this case, the police asked Chadwick where he got the property, and he said that he got them at his house, "but he didn't know who exactly they belonged to." This statement does not help Chadwick's defense, and may tip the scales on the issue of knowledge.
There is, however, more to Chadwick's defense than just proof of the elements of the crime charged. Since this offense involves possession, an experienced defense attorney will explore the possibility of a motion to suppress - essentially arguing that even if he possessed the items, the police found them by conducting an unreasonable search and seizure. If the search was illegal, the evidence will be suppressed (kept out of evidence at trial) and the case will be dismissed. Let's look at the possibilities, step by step.
Was the stop of Chadwick's car justified? The reason for the stop was an allegedly loud exhaust system. Although it may be interesting to compare his exhaust to that of at least half of the motorcycles we hear during the warm months, this avenue will probably not produce positive results for Chadwick at a motion hearing. This charge, however, is a civil violation ($50 fine), and without more, should result in the issuance of a citation only.
Was the search of Chadwick's console justified? The officer did more than just issue a ticket for loud exhaust because during the stop he discovered that the car had no inspection sticker and had a registry document that appeared to be tampered with. For these reasons he decided to have the car towed. And when the police tow a car they must do an "inventory search" of the contents to protect themselves and the tow truck drivers from claims of missing property.
The problem with this is that the lack of an inspection sticker is also a civil offense that should simply result in the issuance of a citation. So it must come down to the allegedly "tampered" registry document. I can only assume that this document was the car's registration. This issue is, however, easily resolved at a traffic stop. The police, obviously, are able to check the validity of a cars' registration. Since Chadwick was not charged with driving an unregistered motor vehicle, we may assume the registration was valid. Therefore, it may be that the police should have simply issued Chadwick two civil motor vehicle citations and let him go on his way.
Even if the police were justified in towing the car, there is one more thing. Was the search of the GPS justified? After all, the article states that the officer became suspicious about the items in the console after he compared the home address on the GPS to Chadwick's home address. Scrolling around in an electronic device (cell phone, lap top, etc.) is a "search" which must have independent justification. Without the information gained from the GPS, it may be argued that the items should simply have been noted on an inventory form and either stored for safe-keeping or returned to Chadwick on the scene.
Even cases that appear to be "open and shut" require expert legal analysis.