Supreme Judicial Court (June 8, 2007)

Police "seize" a suspect when they communicate their intent to forcibly detain him for a threshold inquiry; following a suspect or asking to speak with him, without more, does not constitute a stop.

In response to a 911 report of drug activity in a high crime area, four Boston police officers in an unmarked cruiser approached a large group of males fitting the description given by the caller. Upon seeing the police, the defendant, who was on a bicycle, separated from the group. He rode away from the officers, turning to look back at them several times. The officers pulled alongside and asked if he would speak with them. In response, the defendant sped up; the officers did the same.

As the defendant turned a corner, he hit a tree, abandoned his bicycle, and continued on foot away from the police while clenching his waistband. At this point, the officers got out of the cruiser and chased him. The defendant discarded an object on the ground, and immediately thereafter ran into an awaiting police officer. A violent struggle ensued, and the defendant was arrested. The police recovered a loaded revolver where the defendant had discarded it.

Facing numerous charges, including carrying a firearm without a license, the defendant moved to suppress the gun. The trial court granted the motion, holding that the police seized the defendant when he sped up on his bike and the police followed him. At that moment in time, the trial court ruled, the police did not have reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in criminal activity. The Commonwealth appealed.

Determining the precise moment when a seizure occurs is the pivotal issue in motions to suppress. Whether a police pursuit of a suspect constitutes a seizure is determined by the facts of each case, and hinges on whether the police communicate their intent to forcibly detain the suspect for a threshold inquiry. Simply following a suspect, without communicating an intent to stop him, is not a seizure; indeed, this defendant conceded that the officer's asking if they could speak with him did not constitute a seizure.

The SJC concluded that the police seized the defendant at the moment they left their cruiser and began to chase him. And, while acknowledging it was a close call, the SJC also concluded that all of the defendant's actions, taken together, were sufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the threshold inquiry. Accordingly, the order allowing the motion to suppress was reversed.