Supreme Judicial Court (June 15, 2007)

In a case that underscores the importance of eliciting all facts that support a Terry stop, the SJC reverses the Appeals Court on what factors, including an individual's manner of walking, may contribute to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify a stop and frisk.

Two police officers, on patrol in an unmarked cruiser, watched the defendant walking down the street late at night in a high crime area. The officers noted that the defendant's right arm was rigid, not moving, and pressed against his side as if he were holding something. Based on their training and experience, the officers immediately suspected that the defendant was using the "straight arm" method to conceal a firearm.

They pulled alongside the defendant and called out to him using a random name. They asked him if he lived in the area, where he was coming from, and where he was going. The defendant avoided eye contact with the police and attempted to shield his right side from their view. Concerned that he was about to run, one of the officers stepped out of the car and approached him.

As they spoke with him, the officers noted that his jacket was tilted to the side as if it held a heavy object. Believing the defendant was armed, the police announced they would frisk him. The defendant tried to move backwards; an officer grabbed his jacket pocket and recovered a handgun.

The defendant was convicted of illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition and appealed, claiming the police stop and pat frisk violated his constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizure. The Appeals Court agreed, holding that the officers did not have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or apprehension of danger to justify a stop and frisk. The SJC reversed, ruling that based on all of the factors before the officers (the high crime neighborhood, the defendant's "straight arm" walk, his nervous appearance, and his efforts to conceal his right side) amounted to a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was committing the crime of carrying an illegal firearm, and the stop was therefore justified.