When a vehicle is stopped by police for an observed traffic violation in Massachusetts, the officer may ask the driver and/or passengers to step out from the vehicle. This is known as an exit order. Under federal law, police may order any occupant of a legally stopped vehicle to exit the vehicle.
Contrary to federal law, Massachusetts provides its motorists with added constitutional protections and enhanced legal rights surrounding exit orders. If these rights are no observed by police, motorists and/or their passengers may seek relief from the court if they are arrested and charged with a crime.
Three reasons a police officer may lawfully issue an exit order
In accordance with Massachusetts criminal procedure, there are three justifiable and recognized reasons when a police officer may lawfully issue an exit order:
- (1) if police are warranted in the objective reasonable belief that the safety of the officers or others is threatened
- (2) police have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity by the occupants of the vehicle or
- (3) police are conducting a search of the vehicle on other grounds, such as if they have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime or for purposes of conducting an inventory search before the vehicle is towed
What should you do if you have been charged with a crime as a result of an exit order?
If you were the operator or passenger of a vehicle and given an exit order, and as a result of the order, police made any observations or discovered any evidence used to charge you with a crime, you may seek relief from court by filing a motion to suppress.
A motion to suppress under these circumstances would challenge the lawfulness of the exit order.
Once such a motion is filed, the court will conduct an evidentiary hearing.
At such a hearing, as with all motions to suppress, the burden rests with the prosecution to convince the court by a preponderance of evidence (i.e. more likely than not) that the exit order was justified.
If the prosecution fails to meet this burden and the court concludes the exit order was unlawful, any evidence learned or gathered by police following the order shall be suppressed, meaning it can no longer be used against the defendant to support the prosecution.
If you have been charged with a crime in Massachusetts and were the subject of an exit order leading up to your arrest, contact the Massachusetts Criminal Defense Law Office of John L. Calcagni III, Inc. for a free consultation at (401) 351-5100.