Invalid Automobile Inspection is Insufficient for Automobile Search

John L. Calcagni III
Invalid Automobile Inspection is Insufficient for Automobile Search

Massachusetts Law on Vehicle Inspections and Grace Period

Under Massachusetts law, every owner or operator of a vehicle that is newly acquired in the Commonwealth must submit the vehicle for inspection within seven days of the date when the vehicle is registered. Since there is a seven-day grace period, a vehicle without a registration sticker may be legally permitted to drive for the duration of the grace period.

Commonwealth v. Jones: The Case Overview

In a recent Massachusetts criminal case, Commonwealth v. Jones, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 600 (2022), police observed a vehicle being operated that did not have a valid inspection sticker. Upon making this observation and believing the vehicle could not lawfully be driven without a valid inspection sticker, officers initiated a motor vehicle stop. Based upon observations made after the stop, officers conducted a criminal investigation for suspected Operating Under the Influence (OUI). The investigation led to the motorist’s arrest.

Reasonable Suspicion and the Court’s Ruling

On appeal, the Appeals Court concluded that the officers could have and should have determined whether the vehicle was being operated within the seven-day grace period for obtaining an inspection sticker before initiating the stop. Since the officers stopped the vehicle without making this determination, the Court concluded that they did not have reasonable suspicion to justify the stop.

Understanding Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is defined as reason to believe, based on specific facts either that crime is afoot or that the motorist of a vehicle has committed a civil traffic infraction. In Jones, officers assumed that because the vehicle did not have a valid inspection sticker, that it was not legally authorized to be operated on the roadway. Had the officers done appropriate research into the date of the vehicle registration, they would have discovered that the vehicle was still within the seven-day grace period to undergo an inspection. Because the vehicle was unlawfully stopped under these circumstances, the Court properly ruled that the officers’ subsequent observation of the motorist and actions incident to the subsequent OUI investigation were the fruits of the poisonous tree, and therefore inadmissible.

Legal Consultation and Conclusion

If you have questions or concerns about the legality of an automobile stop or possible arguments that may be raised in support of a motion to suppress, contact the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III, Inc. for a free consultation at (401) 351-5100.