Just a few days ago the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the case of Commonwealth v. Smeaton, SJC-11208 a matter occurring in the vicinity of the Smith College Campus in Northampton, Massachusetts. The Court found that in October of 2010 the defendant was driving on a public way. A Smith College police officer saw him operating recklessly on a road that intersects the campus. The officer effectuated a stop of the car. Local police arrived and arrested the defendant. He was charged criminally with OUI and Reckless Operation of a Motor Vehicle. The defense succeeded in getting the case dismissed prior to trial on a Motion to Suppress. It claimed that the campus police officer lacked the authority to make a stop off campus property. In allowing the motion the lower court judge found that the officer making the stop acted beyond the powers extended to special police (campus police) pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 22C section 63. That law empowers campus police “to make arrests as regular police officers for any criminal offense committed in or upon lands or structures owned, used or occupied by such college, university, or other institution or hospital”. The prosecution appealed the decision.
Embracing established case law the Supreme Judicial Court stated that the authority of the campus police may in some instances extend “to the environs surrounding the campus when the ‘special vigilance of an officer might be required to keep the peace and preserve order amongst those frequenting [the campus and] those carrying persons to and from it.’ “. The Court interpreted the word “used…by [the] college” in G.L. c. 22C Sec. 63 not to be exclusive. Rather, if the school used a road as it did in this case, such use would sufficiently satisfy the statute. The Court also held that even if the road failed to satisfy the term “used” the stop was lawful as the criminal activity occurred “within the environs” of Smith College. Accordingly, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order suppressing the stop and remanded the case to the district court.
This decision goes on to state that the word “environs” will vary from school to school. As a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer that suggests that it remains potentially beneficial to litigate this issue in all Massachusetts Criminal Cases. There are other issues to scrutinize when campus police makes stops as well. Does the school “use” the property where the stop was made in the legal sense? Was “special vigilance” required in the context of this case. The issue of extraterritorial stops does come up frequently in criminal matters in Massachusetts. It is something that lawyers often neglect to litigate, usually because they do not know the law. This is another reason why your selection of a criminal defense attorney is extremely important. Cases can be won on this issue.